After threatening a major hurricane strike, Isabel petered out by the time it reached Washington and its suburbs. Much of the hype was manufactured by TV news, whose drama-hungry reporters were positioned along the Outer Banks of North Carolina and other coastal areas to make for better TV viewing. Isabel was once a Category 5 hurricane, but by the time it reached crossed the Beltway it was much less than that. Nonetheless, local authorities warned us to be prepared, and we were. “Good morning, we have no generators, flashlights or batteries,” were the first words out of the mouth of a clerk answering the phones at a Home Depot in Northern Virginia. Even today, four days on, many schools, shops and offices remain closed, with no electricity and no telephones. That is unfortunate. Our point here, though, is not so much about the aftermath as what happened beforehand. Metro left many riders stranded last Thursday, the day Isabel hit town because it decided to make its last call for all aboard at 11 a.m. The unprecedented decision even caught authorities by surprise.
With no Metrobus or Metrorail service, those who depend on public transportation were forced to either hoof it or go without. Many could not get to the drug store for their prescriptions. Some families didn’t make to the supermarket to get the nonperishable basics for their pantries. The District gave away sand to help residents stem flooding, and chose a perfect location for the giveaway — a block from one of the most obvious landmarks in the region — the RFK Stadium-Armory Station. However, anyone who uses mass transit could not get there.
The lost revenue? It is far too early for a final tally. Suffice it to say, once Metro decided it would garage its fleets, everyone else followed suit and closed up shop, too. Downtown businesses that depend on selling goods and services to the government went dark. While regional authorities knew Isabel was fairly predictable, Metro’s move was hardly anticipated. The federal and D.C. governments had considered offering liberal leave to workers, but Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mayor Tony Williams, said Metro “surprised” regional authorities. No government, no small businesses. No Metro, no employees.
No trash pickups. No schools. No utilities. We have weathered those storms many times before — like every time an inch of snow falls. But no Metro? Metro literally has no track record when it comes to hurricanes. The last hurricane of considerable consequence — Hurricane Agnes — struck in 1972, when, like most of Thursday, there was no Metro.
Metro’s governing board represents every region around the Beltway. If they don’t want to be in the eye of the storm again, they know what must be done.