- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

Strong winds cut power to thousands of metropolitan area customers yesterday and stopped recovery efforts at the Lanham Toys R Us, where the roof collapsed, though searchers believed nobody remained trapped inside the store.
Wind gusts reaching 49 mph made it too dangerous for cranes to remove the debris and toys that kept crews from reaching the section of the roofthat collapsed late Saturday morning.
Mark Brady, spokesman for Prince George's County Fire and Emergency Medical Services, said that by yesterday officials had accounted for every employee inside the store and for everybody who came in vehicles parking in surrounding lots. He also said the store's surveillance video showed no signs of victims trapped inside, but acknowledged the extent of the damage made it unlikely anybody could have survived.
The nine customers, including a 3-year-old boy, who were taken to a hospital were treated and released.
John Poulos of Atlantic General Contractors, in charge of salvaging and rebuilding the store, said the company used the crane to be "a thousand percent sure" no bodies were inside.
He estimate the rebuilding process will cost about $1 million and take about two months.
The winds also snapped tree limbs that landed on cars and toppled power lines throughout the region. Pepco and Dominion Virginia Power reported more than 8,100 households lost electricity in the District and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.
"It's just another little challenge Mother Nature has thrown at us this week," Mr Brady said.
About 6,570 of Pepco's roughly 700,000 customers in the Washington area lost power. The most outages occurred in Montgomery County, where about 5,250 lost power. Prince George's County had 920 outages and the District, 400.
Dominion Virginia Power reported 1,600 outages in Northern Virginia because of wind and water damage.
The top gust of 49 mph was recorded at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and the National Weather Service ended the region's high wind warning at 3 p.m.
The winds were so strong because the metro area was caught between high pressure over the lower Mississippi Valley and low pressure over upstate New York, according to forecasters.
Despite the complication of wind and minor flooding across the region, D.C. officials are promising an easier commute tomorrow. The piles of snow that have been blocking traffic should be cleared from travel lanes by this morning, said Department of Public Works spokeswoman Mary Myers.
Trash collection also will be back to normal beginning tomorrow.
The National Weather Service has lifted flood warnings for the District, but Miss Myers says if anybody wants sandbags, they're available at the DPW facility at 2700 South Capitol St. in Southeast.
Metro officials also said commuters can expect normal rush-hour rail service this morning. The snow put more commuters than normal on Metro last week, and about 200 trains had to be taken out of service after being damaged by ice-coated tracks.
But lingering snow on neighborhood streets and minor flooding prompted widespread late opening for area schools.
All schools in Montgomery and Prince George's counties will open two hours late today, and morning kindergarten is canceled in both counties. Afternoon kindergarten will be held as usual in Montgomery County.
There will be a two-hour delay at Mount Daniel Elementary School in Falls Church because of flooding. Severn River Middle, Magothy River Middle and Hamiltorn Middle schools are closed today because of weather-related damage.
Saturday's record rainfall of 2.25 inches and the heavy snowfall during the Presidents Day weekend likely caused much of the roof damage and collapses in the region. A support beam broke and another was bending yesterday morning at Saks Fifth Avenue at Arundel Mills Mall. The store was evacuated and no injuries were reported.
D.C. officials evacuated the Safeway grocery store on Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase for more than an hour yesterday afternoon because of a large amount of water on the roof.
On Saturday, roofs collapsed at a CVS drugstore in Northeast, a Wal-Mart in Leesburg, the Grand Rental Station hardware store in Odenton and the Floris Elementary School in Herndon. No injuries were reported.
Fire officials are telling residents to clear their gutters and spouts, but asking them to stay off roofs because they could be weak from the weight of snow and rain.
In Dover, Del., the roof of an empty Playtex warehouse collapsed Saturday and roof damage forced an evacuation of a Wal-Mart, Lowe's and a McDonald's restaurant.
Flooding from the melting snow and rain is still a concern in some places.
A flash flood warning was issued for the lower Occoquan River along the Fairfax-Prince William County line after a dam operator was unable to control the flow of rapidly rising water.
However, the storm surge coming down the Potomac River is not expected to cause flooding when it reaches the Washington area tomorrow afternoon. The flood stage in Georgetown is 7 feet and the weather service is forecasting high tide to reach 5 to 6 feet.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.


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