- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Another morning of ugly road conditions awaits Washington-area drivers this morning after a third consecutive night of icy rain and snow.

About a tenth of an inch of freezing rain fell in the region yesterday afternoon, complicating the evening commute, despite federal and D.C. officials’ sending workers home early.

The freezing rain turned to sleet by early evening. The precipitation then changed to snow at about 7 p.m. and expected to dump as much as 2 inches on the region — promising another day of treacherous commutes, closed schools and late openings.

Anticipating that D.C. schools would open this morning after two days of closures because of inclement weather, transportation officials said road crews made clearing secondary streets leading to schools a priority last night.

However, some school closings were expected in Virginia and Maryland, and some D.C. schools also might stay closed today. Parents are advised to check the status this morning.

Three days of winter storms across the Midwest and Northeast have been blamed for at least 48 deaths from Kansas to the Carolinas, including three deaths in both Virginia and Maryland.

Three drivers in Northern Virginia died in separate crashes with snowplows late Monday night and early Tuesday morning.

Slick roads contributed to three fatal accidents in Maryland. A pedestrian on U.S. Route 40 in Baltimore County was struck and killed yesterday morning by a delivery truck; a car lost control Monday morning in Harford County and ran over a man operating a snow blower in front of his home; and a tractor-trailer driver crashed and died Monday morning in Dorchester County.

Other less-severe injuries also were blamed on the ice.

Rescue workers in Virginia’s Henrico County, outside Richmond, were deluged with calls from people who slipped and fell on sidewalks and front steps. Similar emergencies played out at homes and businesses throughout the region.

The ice knocked out electricity to more than 300,000 people in Georgia and the Carolinas, but the Washington area was spared from widespread power outages.

About 1,250 residents in Poolesville had their natural-gas service restored yesterday after living without heat since Monday. Gas heat also was restored to all but 50 of the 350 customers who lost service in Northwest yesterday when water seeped into a gas main, Washington Gas officials said.

Power companies remained on alert last night in the District and its suburbs to respond to outages caused by ice breaking electric lines or knocking tree limbs onto the lines.

The National Weather Service said the number of outages could increase overnight and today if winds trailing the last of the rain and snow topple frozen trees or power lines. Winds today in the Washington area could gust up to 31 mph. The high temperature is expected to be 34 degrees.

“Just because you have power now doesn’t mean that you will have it after the winds come through,” said North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley, who yesterday declared a state of emergency in his state.

Last night, road crews in the District, Maryland and Virginia continued to work 12-hour shifts to keep plowing and salting roads.

“We’ve been in continuous operations since Sunday and will continue to be until the end of the storm, which looks like Wednesday,” said Bill Rice, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation.

He said the road crews are working on neighborhood streets, especially around schools. But he reminded residents that the District only guarantees to make secondary streets passable, not cleared like major thoroughfares.

Residents can request snow-removal services by calling 202/727-1000.

Mr. Rice said road conditions this morning would be as unpredictable as the weather.

“If it gets warmer with less water than it could be a lot better,” he said. “We will just keep working on it.”

Rain made the job even harder, said Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan. He said that despite deploying about 1,800 workers to salt roads, the rain just washed the salt into the ditches.

He urged drivers in Maryland to help crews locate problem conditions today by dialing #77 on a mobile phone to report icy conditions.

In Maryland, road crews have been battling the elements since Friday.

“It’s hard to get our folks the rest that they need right now,” said David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

“I remember snow like this, but this ice is quite bad,” said Bawo Ayomike, 47, a D.C. resident who was scraping ice off his car yesterday. Snow drifts had buried cars on barely plowed side streets in his Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

Buses avoided many side streets, so commuters were asked to go to the nearest main thoroughfare to catch a bus. Passengers taking Metrorail were warned to expect crowding and delays because cars were being taken out of service for de-icing.

Cab drivers charge double fares when the city declares a snow emergency.

“That’s when we really make money,” said cab driver Muhammad Dean, 58. “But you better have good tires.”

Ice on the tracks stalled some Metro trains yesterday, mostly affecting the Orange Line at New Carrollton and Landover.

“Some passengers waited for over an hour,” said Metro information officer Lisa Farbstein. “We called in shuttle buses to help take passengers to other stations.”

Because of ice on switches and electrical connections, Amtrak stopped four East Coast trains, including the New York-to-Miami Silver Meteor and the Auto Trains.

• Arlo Wagner and David Drebes contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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