- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

The roof of a Toys R Us store in Lanham collapsed yesterday, injuring nine persons in the biggest of several incidents resulting from record-setting rainfall yesterday and snow from last weekend's massive winter storm.
Meanwhile, some roads and basements in the Washington area were flooded during yesterday's record rain. Weather forecasters were predicting no rain but strong gusts of wind today.
The danger of standing water forced the temporary closure of a Metro subway station and the evacuation of two malls around the region, while sewer water seeped into the basements of dozens of homes in Alexandria.
No one was seriously injured in the roof collapse at the Toys R Us store in the 8200 block of Annapolis Road. The incident occurred about 11:45 a.m., when about 25 employees and customers were inside the 45,000-square-foot building, fire officials said.
Nine customers, including a 3-year-old boy, were taken to local hospitals, and most were treated and released, Prince George's County Fire Chief Ronald Blackwell said. He said the boy was with his parents and was in "good shape" last night.
About 90 emergency workers from Prince George's County, the District and Montgomery County accounted for the 10 store employees and all the customers who had arrived by car.
Fire and rescue workers combed through the rubble with dogs and thermal-imaging devices in the search for victims into the night, but officials said they were "cautiously optimistic" that no one was buried in the debris.
Donald Smith, 28, of Riverdale, was buying a gift for his daughter's third birthday when the roof fell.
"I had just checked out from the register, and I was signing my receipt to pick up my merchandise," Mr. Smith said., holding a store receipt stamped 11:31 a.m.
He said he heard the sound of metal grinding and a roar that resembled a roller coaster a few minutes later.
"It was literally like a rolling effect that came from the back to the front," he said. "I just saw the roof coming toward me."
Fire officials said as much as 90 percent of the store's roof caved in under the weight of snow from the Presidents Day weekend storm, and rain yesterday.
The National Weather Service yesterday recorded 2.25 inches of rain at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which broke the single-day record of 1.48 inches, set in 1971.
Rainfall records also were broken yesterday at Baltimore-Washington and Washington Dulles international airports.
Rain at BWI measured 2.29 inches, up from the record of 2.15 inches set in 1971. At Dulles, rainfall totaled 1.67 inches, breaking the record of 1.22 inches, also set in 1971.
Meteorologist Richard Hitchens said the "bulk" of the rain had moved out of the area by late yesterday.
"What you'll be facing here [today] are heavy winds … with gusts as high as 60 mph," he said.
Jo'Ellen Countee, spokeswoman for the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, said three city streets were flooded yesterday: Columbia Road NW, between 16th and 17th streets; the Whitney Young Bridge; and Naylor Road at Southern Avenue SE.
Mrs. Countee said her agency had been informed that about 30 basements were flooded, as of yesterday evening.
Libby Lawson, spokeswoman for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA), said her agency received "less than a dozen calls" complaining about floodwaters entering homes.
WASA crews responded by removing snow from catch basins near the affected homes, said Mrs. Lawson.
Water problems forced Metro to temporarily shut the Mount Vernon Square-UDC station on the Green and Yellow lines. Spokeswoman Taryn McNeil said water was leaking from the subway station's ceiling to its platform.
Meteorologist Chris Strong said the District could see mild to moderate flooding along the Potomac River by tomorrow evening, as rising water moves down from West Virginia.
D.C. officials said they plan to erect retention walls if the Potomac rises above flood stage.
Last night, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams directed city property management officials to inspect all city-owned and -leased buildings and schools for problems.
In Alexandria, heavy rain backed into sewer lines and caused 15 manhole covers to rise. Rich Baier, director of Alexandria's Transportation and Environmental Services Department, said a "couple hundred" basements were inundated with sewer water.
Mr. Baier said his office distributed about 2,000 sandbags to businesses and residences along the Potomac in case of flooding.
A flood watch was in effect in Northern Virginia through today, and flood warnings were in effect throughout most of Southwest Virginia yesterday.
In other weather-related incidents in Maryland, Virginia and the District yesterday:
Officials evacuated the Annapolis Mall after its roof buckled over a Payless Shoes store.
Tysons Galleria II in McLean was evacuated after firefighters discovered flooding on the second and third levels of the mall. Up to 30 stores were flooded, but almost all the stores reopened yesterday.
D.C. officials evacuated a CVS drug store and a Safeway supermarket in the 300 block of 40th Street NE after a 30-foot by 40-foot section of the drug store's roof collapsed and broke a water pipe that flooded the grocery store.
Loudoun County fire officials evacuated a Wal-Mart in Leesburg when its roof began to buckle.
More than 160 residents of the Heritage Hall nursing home in Leesburg were evacuated because of flooding in the building.
Heavy rain and standing snow caved in the roof of the Grand Rental Station hardware store in Odenton, Md. No one was injured in the 11 a.m. collapse.
Firefighters evacuated the Prince George's Plaza shopping center in Hyattsville after discovering leaks in several stores and portions of the roof sagging.
Fairfax County authorities reported a roof collapse at Floris Elementary School in the 2700 block of Centreville Road in Herndon. The main structure beam collapsed yesterday morning, flooding the school with at least six inches of water. Officials said no one was in the building at the time.
Jabeen Bhatti and David Eldridge contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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