- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

Area officials directed snow-removal equipment and ordered sandbags to be readied yesterday for flooding from melting snow and a couple of inches of rainfall this weekend.
"We are going to experience some property damage, I think, that would affect individuals and businesses and perhaps require some Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance," said Tony Bullock, a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.
Regional transportation officials said commuters should have an easier rush hour this morning, compared with those of Wednesday and yesterday. But Metro officials said their overwhelmed subway system will not be able to meet ridership demand until Monday or Tuesday.
Meanwhile, D.C. and Falls Church school officials said they will resume classes two hours late today, while other jurisdictions said schools will remain closed for the fourth consecutive day after a massive snowfall during Presidents Day weekend.
Residents and businesses still digging themselves out of one of the worst snowstorms in history were aided by rising temperatures yesterday.
Temperatures are expected to rise into the low 50s tomorrow, when 2 to 3 inches of rain is expected from a storm heading north from the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Weather Service.
Jim Travers, a meteorologist at the weather service's Baltimore-Washington forecast office, said the storm edged west of the Appalachian Mountains yesterday. "Maybe we're going to catch a break here and not get as much [rain]. It won't be nearly as bad," said Mr. Travers, who predicted some flooding.
"There's an awful lot of moisture around and not a lot of places for it to go," he said, noting that many storm drains and catch basins are blocked by large berms of snow.
Quentin Banks, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said his agency will provide resources to counties that "get into trouble." He said the agency would provide aid such as engineering equipment or extra police officers.
City workers in Old Town Alexandria yesterday filled more than 2,000 sandbags to prepare for flooding along the Potomac River, while D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) workers used front-end loaders to remove snow from selected catch basins and hauled it away in dump trucks.
"Down by the river … those are lowland areas near the river which tend to flood," said Alexandria spokeswoman Barbara Gordon.
Alexandria's most recent flood occurred in January 1996, after a storm had dumped about 2 feet of snow on the region. The Potomac crested 8 feet above flood level.
Mrs. Gordon said city officials would be expecting problems about noon tomorrow, when the Potomac reaches high tide.
The District's last severe flood was in August 2001, when heavy storms dumped 2 to 3 inches of rain on the city. At least 1,200 homes were damaged, many in the Bloomingdale area of Northwest.
WASA spokeswoman Libby Lawson said workers are targeting areas known to be prone to flash flooding.
"There are 25,000 storm drains and catch basins in the city. We've got to figure out which ones to target. You can't get to them all. We've got to minimize the impact of flooding," she said.
The storm dumped a record-setting 28.2 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Sunday and Monday, and 16.1 inches at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Parts of Western Maryland and West Virginia received nearly 50 inches.
Most school districts remained snowbound for an entire week. Many, including Montgomery County, made the decision to cancel school today by 10 a.m. yesterday.
"It is simply unsafe and impractical to expect us to put 139,000 children on the road and expect them to be safe," said Brian Porter, spokesman for Montgomery County schools. "There are no sidewalks here. The school lots are not clear. It would force children to walk in the roadways, which are bordered by iceberg-sized piles of snow."
The county will issue a statement today asking citizens to clear sidewalks to allow children to walk to school or to bus stops on Monday.
A few schools, including those in the District, Falls Church, Manassas and Stafford County in Virginia, and Calvert County and Charles County in Maryland, chose to open two hours late, saying their roads and sidewalks were clear enough to get students to school safely.
"We don't base our decision on any other counties," said Charles County schools spokeswoman Katie O'Malley-Simpson. She said 15 inches of snow fell in the county.
The snow days have been troublesome for school officials, especially in Maryland, where students are required to be in class for 180 days a year. State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is planning to ask the state board of eEducation to waive the days lost during this week's state of emergency from the 180-day requirement.
Travel was improved around the region yesterday, but county snow crews continued working to clear more than one passable lane on many side roads.
"One lane down the middle of the road isn't good enough," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. He said yesterday that crews would work through the night to clear roads.
Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson said there were "pockets" of problems but that snow removal was scheduled to be completed by 9 p.m. yesterday.
Yesterday's rush hour ran more smoothly than Wednesday's, which was hampered by a 13-mile backup on Interstate 270. However, there was one incident involving eight vehicles on the Outer Loop of the Beltway near Annapolis Road, and snow removal continued in several places on major highways.
Metro trains ran at about 70 percent capacity, but demand was at 94 percent, officials said during a board meeting. The subway system is designed to handle 12 inches of snow but has been overwhelmed by last weekend's snowfall, they said.
Service won't return to normal until Monday or Tuesday, said Metro General Manager Richard A. White.
Many jurisdictions already have exhausted their snow-removal budgets this year and are straining to balance their books in a tough economic period.
Mr. Williams and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said they intend to seek funds from FEMA to help pay for the cleanup. Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner said he has asked aides to see if Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley will qualify for federal assistance.
Mr. Williams hopes that any damage incurred by flooding this weekend will be covered by the same funds that are requested for the snow cleanup, Mr. Bullock said. Estimates of the cost to the District were $5 million on Tuesday, but that figure has increased, a city spokeswoman said.
In Maryland, the cleanup will cost between $30 million and $40 million, according to an estimate by Mr. Ehrlich.
"Federal funding would obviously help relieve a tremendous financial burden," spokesman Henry Falwell said. FEMA can offset up to 75 percent of the cleanup cost, but Mr. Falwell said it is too soon to know how much Mr. Ehrlich will seek.
A Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman estimated the cleanup would cost about $30 million.
Mary Shaffrey in Richmond contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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