- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

The Washington area yesterday readied itself for flooding that officials fear will result from last weekend's snow melting too fast and this weekend's rains falling too hard.
The National Weather Service issued a flood watch for the region as rain late yesterday began falling on top of the mounds of snow piled along streets and highways and driveways.
More than an inch of rain was expected to create problems when combined with the melting of more than a foot of snow that fell earlier in the week.
All of that water has to go somewhere, and officials worried about everything from river dams to storm drains.
The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority brought in a "clam bucket" truck to the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and Fourth Street NE to scoop garbage out of drain basins. It took between 15 and 20 scoops by the mechanical claw to clear the black, dripping garbage and trash several feet deep.
"This is mild," said WASA worker Jeffery Gamble, 35. "We've pulled all kinds of things out of here mattresses, ironing boards, bicycles."
Supervisor Steven Medley, 33, added dead cats and dogs to the list.
Officials in the District and around the region spent yesterday preparing for flooding that one public works official said could equal the damaging flood of January 1996, which followed a storm that dumped up to 2 feet of snow in the area.
Metro, which has run at far below maximum service all week because some trains were immobilized by snow and ice, implemented a plan to protect trains and buses from water damage.
Maintenance workers placed sandbags in staging areas and readied drainage-pumping stations, while directors set up a command center to oversee it, spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.
Counties in Western Maryland and on the low-lying Eastern Shore were preparing for flooding in streams and creeks.
Officials prepared to open 10 gates in the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River between Harford and Cecil counties if the water rises, said Frank Muller, director of emergency services in Cecil County.
And in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., park rangers readied evacuation plans in case the Shenandoah or Potomac overflows.
In Alexandria, which was hammered in 1996 when the Potomac River swelled to 8 feet above flood stage, city officials prepared to place sandbags in trouble spots.
"We're thinking that it's going to be similar to '96, [but] we're hoping it won't be that bad," said Rich Baier, director of transportation and environmental services. He said the worst flooding could occur late tomorrow and into Monday as the Potomac continues to swell.
Some 2,000 sandbags will be placed on top of plastic sheeting this morning from Wolf to Queen streets in Alexandria's Old Town, and on Lee Street, Mr. Baier said.
WASA crews worked throughout the District yesterday trying to clear roughly 1,000 of the city's 25,000 catch basins and storm drains to prevent flooding. They advised Washingtonians to help alleviate flooding by poking holes in snow berms blocking storm drains.
The District's drainage problems during a snow melt are made worse by catch basins clogged with massive amounts of trash.
WASA spokeswoman Libby Lawson said the congestion is worst in basins close to bus stops or Metro stops. "People do use them as trash cans," she said.
Residents dumping cooking grease down sinks contributes to the problem, she said.
Mr. Medley's WASA crew of 10 yesterday tried to clear 15 catch basins in the Edgewood and Eckington neighborhoods in Northeast, which straddle Rhode Island Avenue just east of North Capitol Street. WASA has had six crews clearing drains around the city since Wednesday.
They concentrated on areas of lower Northeast, which experienced some of the most severe flooding when torrential rains fell in August 2001, damaging 1,200 homes.
Ms. Lawson said WASA tries to clean its storm drains and catch basins once a year, but one Eckington resident was skeptical.
"If it wasn't for the snow, they wouldn't be here digging this out," said Edward Stith, 73.
Pedestrians such as Joyce Howard had to walk on the shoulder into oncoming traffic near the Rhode Island Avenue and Fourth Street intersection. "We have to walk on the street. That's my main problem. Other than that, I think the city's doing a great job," said Ms. Howard, 46, who frowned and stepped aside to avoid a car making a right turn. "Be my guest." she said to the driver.
The metropolitan area was striving to return to normal yesterday, with most roads passable if not cleared. D.C. public schools, along with Falls Church, Manassas and Stafford County schools in Virginia, and Calvert County and Charles County in Maryland, opened two hours late. The rest remained closed, meaning a full week off for students and teachers.
All school systems now have several missed days to make up, which could cause an extension of the school year later into the spring, or longer schooldays for some districts. Maryland state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she would ask the state Board of Education to waive the days lost from the 180 days students are required to be in school.
Yesterday, Maryland remained in a state of emergency that was declared Monday, allowing National Guard troops to assist in snow removal. There were 210 troops on duty in Baltimore and Havre De Grace, as well as parts of Allegany and Garrett counties, said Guard spokesman Maj. Charles Kohler.
The National Guard also was put on alert in the District.
The National Guard deployed more than 400 troops and some 100 Humvees in Maryland during the week, transporting dialysis patients to treatment and giving rides to police officers in hard-to-reach areas, in addition to helping with snow removal.
If flooding occurs, they could add unclogging drains and aiding stranded motorists to the list.
The cost of the storm cleanup was estimated at more than $5 million in the District, and from $30 million to $40 million each in Maryland and Virginia. Snow-removal budgets in all three jurisdictions were already depleted, and the region's three top elected officials have said they would seek federal assistance.
Before jurisdictions figure out their bottom lines, they'll have to deal with flooding. The 16.1 inches of snow measured at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the 28.2 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Airport are expected to melt quickly today with temperatures forecast in the low 50s.
This article is based in part on wire reports.


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