- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

Heavy rain and melting ice yesterday led to a flood watch for most of the Washington area.

The flood watch was to expire at midnight last night, when the rain was expected to move out of the area. But long-awaited above-freezing temperatures meant the ice and leftover snow would continue to melt over the weekend.

D.C. Water and Sewer Authority crews were patrolling streets yesterday to make sure catch basins were clear of debris, spokesman Keith Givens said.

Mr. Givens said there was no major flooding to report, as most of the drains were clear of any large sticks or other trash.

Several roads in Western Maryland were closed early yesterday due to heavy rain and flooding, police said.

“We’ve been busy clearing storm drains [throughout the state] so when the snow melts, all the water has someplace to go,” David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration said. “But with the grounds so saturated from the wet winter we’ve had, flooding is definitely [a concern].”

Most flood-related deaths happen when people drive into floodwaters, officials said. It takes less than 2 feet of water to sweep away a car.

Emergency crews were being stationed around the county yesterday in case of problems.

The latest winter blast iced area roads yesterday, putting D.C. schools officials in a quandary as to when schools would open.

Freezing rain began falling Thursday night and continued throughout yesterday, coating everything with a thin layer of ice. The slick roads and pavements caused a string of minor accidents and gave most students — other than those in the District — another day off from school.

Just after 7 a.m. yesterday, a D.C. school spokeswoman notified radio and television station that city schools would open two hours late due to ice. Minutes later, the spokeswoman said the situation was still being assessed. Five minutes after that, officials decided schools would open on time.

Although several area school systems re-evaluated their status during the morning, only D.C. schools announced changes over such a brief period. School officials said they stood by their decision.

“It was miscommunicated information,” said Lucy Young, director of communications for D.C. schools. “We are apologizing for any frustration this caused parents, teachers and administrators.”

Interim Superintendent Elfreda W. Massie never changed her mind about the decision that schools would open on time, Miss Young said.

The District was the only school system in the metropolitan area not to close or delay openings yesterday. In Maryland, the weather forced Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s schools to cancel classes; in Virginia, Fairfax and Prince William counties schools were closed, while schools in Arlington County, Alexandria and Falls Church opened two hours late.

With school buses off the roads, road crews had an easier time clearing the pavement.

“We had crews out [Thursday] at 8 p.m., salting the roads,” Mr. Buck said. “There’ve been a few accidents, but with many of the schools being closed or delayed, traffic was not as heavy [yesterday morning], so we were fortunate.”

One serious accident in Prince George’s County involved a salt truck contracted by the State Highway Administration, closing Route 50 near Bowie for three hours.

At about 4:30 a.m., the privately owned salt truck was traveling westbound when it was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer, Mr. Buck said. The salt truck overturned, slid for several feet and ended up in the median strip.

The tractor-trailer slid out of control across all lanes of the highway before it flipped and slid to a stop, also on the median strip.

“The salt truck was in the far left lane, obviously at a slower speed since it was salting the roads,” Mr. Buck said.

The drivers of both vehicles were severely injured and were being treated at Prince George’s General Hospital. Police said the driver of the tractor-trailer was ejected from the vehicle.

The names of the drivers were not immediately available.

A tractor-trailer lost control and crashed through the wall dividing Interstate 270, closing the southboundl lanes near Montgomery Village Avenue in Gaithersburg during the morning rush.

Minor flooding was forecast for today along the Monocacy River at Frederick, Md., with a crest of 15.5 feet, or 5 feet above flood stage, expected early in the afternoon.

The National Park Service lowered the water level in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal near Georgetown in the District, fearful that floating ice could damage park structures.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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