- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2003

Hurricane Isabel sheared a massive trail through the mid-Atlantic region that left nearly 4.5 million homes without power, with more than 500,000 of those in Pepco’s service area. Seventeen persons were killed and thousands of trees were toppled and streets were submerged before the storm broke up over southern Canada this morning.

The aftermath of Isabel continues to unravel life in the Washington metropolitan area, which it struck as a severely weakened tropical storm, with warnings that the Potomac River could crest tomorrow or Monday, threatening residents in low-lying neighborhoods in Fairfax County and the District.

“We are looking at the crest of the Potomac River Sunday or possibly as late as Monday,” said Peter G. LaPorte, director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency.

The storm drove the waters of the Potomac to a record 11.3 feet above normal yesterday, two-tenths of an inch higher than the previous record in 1933, according to Hugh Cobb, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia called Isabel “the worst storm in at least a generation” after learning that nine persons in the state died of storm-related injuries, although previous recent storms were more destructive of both life and property.

President Bush declared disasters in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, freeing federal aid for housing repairs and low-interest loans for uninsured losses.

More than 1 million residents in the Washington area were told to conserve and boil water yesterday, and utility officials said some customers would have to wait up to a week, or perhaps longer, until crews restore electricity. Some neighborhoods lost power even before the storm hit full force.

Thousands of residents left without power resorted to dry ice yesterday, waiting in lines that spilled into traffic in Prince George’s County. Potomac Electric Power Co. workers had distributed 300,000 pounds of dry ice before they ran out last night when the manufacturer in Baltimore lost power, ending distribution at sites in Landover and Wheaton and in Northeast.

Pepco had hoped the National Guard would be able to fly dry ice from other regions, but utility spokesman Bob Dobkin said last night that wouldn’t happen. It had ordered 850,000 pounds before the storm hit. Pepco said it will announce distribution points and schedules when more dry ice comes in, but that it wouldn’t be today.

Dominion Virginia Power planned to distribute free dry ice to residents in Virginia Beach, the Richmond area and Fairfax County today.

Despite the frustration, weather forecasters said Isabel could have been even more destructive if the storm had struck Norfolk at landfall instead of at the less-populated Outer Banks towns in North Carolina.

Some insurance analysts gave very early damage estimates as low as $500 million to $1 billion. By contrast, Hurricane Andrew caused $26.5 billion in damage in 1992; Hugo, $6 billion in 1989; and Fran, $3.2 billion in 1996.

“We’re confident that it’ll be about $500 million, but we’ve got people out there assessing the damage and we should have a clearer idea by next week,” said Jim Marren, a spokesman for California-based Risk Management Solutions, which assesses losses for insurance companies.

Homeowners yesterday swamped insurance companies with claims from fallen trees, flooding and high winds. Several companies dispatched claims representatives to get preliminary details on areas affected by Isabel’s wrath, but most plan to start more detailed assessments today.

Allstate Insurance Co. had received about 3,000 claims by yesterday afternoon.

So far, state and local authorities blamed Isabel for at least 17 deaths: nine in Virginia, three in North Carolina, two in Maryland and one each in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Six of those killed in Virginia died in traffic accidents. Two others were killed by falling trees. Isabel was also blamed in the deaths of two persons in separate traffic accidents in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties.

D.C. police suggested that the storm contributed to an early-morning fatality yesterday at North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue, where a motorist died after his car slammed into a police cruiser. Power outages darkened traffic lights at intersections in the District and across the region. The accident occurred at 3:30 a.m.

“It could have been so much worse, and we were prepared for it to be so much worse,” said Alan Etter, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman.

Many intersections in the District, Maryland and Virginia remained dark last night.

“The driving is rough going out there,” said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, a motor club. “Some neighborhoods look like a bomb hit. I was driving up Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, and people were not treating the dark intersections as four-way stops. I saw three fender benders.”

Public transportation resumed but with limited service yesterday. Amtrak reinstated full service on the Northeast Corridor, and four trains south of the Washington area will also resume service today.

Metro also resumed service 31/2 hours late yesterday. The Grosvenor station on the Red Line shut down at 6:30 p.m. because of power outages. But Metro officials were able to find a backup generator and reopened the station within an hour.

MARC officials said backup power generators will allow trains to run on schedule Monday, but they warn of potential delays owing to flooding. It was not clear last night when Virginia Railway Express planned to resume service.

The storm shut down all federal and local government offices Thursday and yesterday, but workers are expected to show up on time Monday.

“It’s going to be business as usual,” said Rusty Asher, a spokesman for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. “We’re expecting people to report to work on time, but if something changes, we’ll let them know first.”

Government officials said they immediately dispatched crews to clear choked roads of debris and downed trees after Isabel blew through the region. Officials in other communities, however, had to wait for floodwaters to subside.

Residents in Annapolis navigated city streets in motor boats yesterday afternoon, while city work crews waited for backup generators to arrive from Philadelphia to keep untreated sewage from leaking into local streams.

“We still have a few cycles of high tides to contend with,” Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer said.

Water rose 7.58 feet above the normal high-tide mark in Annapolis, according to Department of Public Works Director Joe Baker.

“This has been declared the 100-year flood,” Mr. Baker said.

Utility crews worked to restore power to millions of customers in Virginia, Maryland and the District. Officials said they would try to bring back power as fast as possible, but might not restore service to all customers for up to a week or more.

“This will be a marathon, not a sprint,” said Jimmy D. Stanton, vice president of operations for Dominion Virginia Power. “Isabel was the worst storm in our company’s history.”

Pepco officials said electricity to more than two-thirds of their customers — at least 531,000 by last night — was knocked out by Isabel, the worst outage in Pepco’s history.

“This was a very big hurricane in terms of its size, if not its intensity,” said Mr. Cobb of the National Hurricane Center. “I think Isabel will be remembered for the large storm surges that occurred on the James, York and Potomac rivers. As bad as it was, though, it could have been catastrophic.”

Marguerite Higgins contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire-service reports.

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