- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

Freezing rain early yesterday turned into just rain over most of the Washington area, but there was enough ice to knock out power for tens of thousands of residents and businesses and give students in Maryland, Northern Virginia and the District a day off from school.
The second blast of winter weather to hit the area in the past week hit hardest in Northern Virginia and in Montgomery County and westward in Maryland.
With a forecast of ice and thus icy roads most area school systems canceled classes early yesterday. Among them was the District, which was criticized last Thursday for belatedly calling off school as 6 inches of snow fell on the city. Yesterday, the District received mostly rain but decided to cancel classes at 5:30 a.m.
Spokeswoman Linda Boyd said schools had a scheduled half-day anyway, with students set to be released at noon for a professional-development day for teachers.
The Aspen Hill area of Montgomery County also was slapped hard.
Power was out around Bel Pre Road and Northgate Plaza, the shopping center near where the Washington-area snipers killed four persons at the start of their shooting spree Oct. 2.
About 25 percent of the employees at the Michael's arts and crafts store didn't make it into work yesterday, said the store manager who asked that his name not be used.
"There were numerous reasons schools were closed, power was off, day cares weren't operating," he said. "And anytime [weather] keeps people off the streets, it hurts business, especially at this time of year."
With warnings Tuesday night that the storm would make roads treacherous, many federal and local government employees arrived late to work or took the day off under liberal leave policies. No serious traffic problems were reported, although outages darkened traffic signals at scattered intersections. Trees fell across roads, including River Road in Potomac, blocking traffic at the beginning of the evening rush.
Road crews had cleared away most of the snow from last week's first wintry blast. Early yesterday, the crews spread sand and salt on highway surfaces that began turning icy before dawn.
The combination of the snow and ice was blamed for one spectacular accident on the Route 28 overpass above the Dulles Access and Toll roads.
Snow piled up to the overpass guardrail acted like a ramp for a Jeep Cherokee that went out of control at 6 a.m., jumped the guardrail and plunged 25 feet to the road below. Driver Victor Lemus, 48, of Sterling, was taken to Reston Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, said Kraig Troxill, spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.
Then, seven vehicles on the overpass banged fenders, causing more minor injuries.
Power outages were most severe in Montgomery County where 29,000 customers were without power at midafternoon as ice-laden tree branches came crashing down onto power lines. Utility crews worked through the night to restore electricity.
"We expect to return power to the majority of those customers [last] night," said Potomac Electric Power Co. spokesman Charles Taylor.
Dominion Virginia Power spokeswoman Richard Zuercher said peak outages totaled 90,000 from Fairfax west toward the mountains, among them about 7,000 in Loudoun County who may not have power restored until 9 tonight.
"There's plenty of ice to go around, for sure," said one man working on an emergency crew in Loudoun County.
Sugarloaf Mountain on the border of Montgomery and Frederick counties was among the areas where ice arrived as expected.
Last night, the Brubeck family of Adamstown was without power, gathered with lighted candles in a small room, dressed in coats and heavy clothing.
"We're just sitting here waiting, hoping it doesn't go on for a week, like in North Carolina [last week]," said Brad Brubeck, 41, as he, his wife, Ellen, and their children Bethany, 3, and Ryan, 2, spent the evening without heat or television.
Temperatures throughout the day remained just below freezing. The power went off shortly after noon.
"We're probably going to camp out in one large bed tonight," Mr. Brubeck said.
For the most part, roads were in good shape because transportation departments sent out trucks ahead of the storm to spread salt, sand and de-icing chemicals. The District's Department of Public Works, for instance, began loading its trucks at 10 p.m. Tuesday.
The road work was mostly successful. Maryland police said major highways were in good shape although some secondary roads were slick.
Commuters who opted to take Metro ran into problems at the Dupont Circle station where all three escalators at the south entrance were out of service. People leaving the station had to climb more than 135 steps.
A Metro official said one escalator already was broken, and the storm knocked out the other two.
Among the activities that fell victim to the weather was the annual Children's Story Hour at the White House when President Bush was to have read Christmas stories to about 60 children.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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