- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Forecasters have issued a flood watch for the District and much of Maryland and Virginia in anticipation of heavy rain from Tropical Depression Frances, which is expected to remain in the region until tomorrow.

“The last three hurricanes missed us, but we’ll be getting this one,” said Brian Guyer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The storm struck the east Florida coast on Saturday, causing widespread flooding, wind damage and power outages before lumbering across the state and through the Gulf states.

Frances is expected to continue along its northeastern path and arrive this morning, bringing 2 to 4 inches of rains. Heavy rain of 3 to 5 inches is expected in the Blue Ridge region and the eastern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains.

Mr. Guyer said the storm could spawn severe thunderstorms or tornadoes, but the prediction is “mainly heavy rain.”

The areas included in the weather service’s flood watch are the District and the Maryland counties of Anne Arundel, Allegany, Baltimore, Calvert, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s. The Virginia counties include Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun and Prince William plus the Shenandoah Valley.

District crews are clearing catch basins in low areas and checking gauges along the Potomac River, said Barbara Childs-Pair, director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency.

Sandbags will be available at the District’s public-work facility on New Jersey Avenue and K Street NW, and emergency officials will be on standby.

Miss Childs-Pair said the emergency officials — from such departments as police, fire and public works — will be called to meet at the city’s emergency operations center if conditions become worse than expected and a flood warning is issued.

Officials from Pepco, Baltimore Gas and Electric and Dominion Virginia Power said they will not be short-handed, despite sending crews to aid Florida’s disaster relief.

“We never put our own costumers at risk of not being able to get their lights on,” said Le-Ha Anderson, spokeswoman for Dominion Virginia, which has 340 employees either heading to or in Florida. “We remember what it was like last year when we had 2 million costumers without power, and we could not have managed without all the help that came from all over.”

About 5 million Florida residents are without electricity after more than 13 inches of rain fell along the state’s east-central coast. The storm was blamed for at least 18 deaths in Florida and Georgia, in addition to two in Bahamas.

Baltimore Gas and Electric sent 150 contract employees to Florida. They will be followed by an additional 75 today.

Spokesman Robert Gould said the company does not expect to need the personnel in the area.

“Isabel came with a storm surge,” he said. “The weather we are expecting does not concern us.”

Pepco also sent only contractors to Florida, said Mary-Beth Hutchenson, a company spokeswoman.

But as for preparations, “There is not really a whole lot we can do,” she said. “We respect the weather. We don’t want to be overconfident, but this just doesn’t look like we are in for a major weather situation.”

Pepco and other area power companies drew strong criticism and were the focus of an investigation after the remains of Hurricane Isabel hit the region and left about 4.5 million homes without power.

“We are hoping we won’t have to explain anything this year,” Ms. Hutchenson said.

Frances is expected to miss the lower parts of Virginia including Richmond, which is still recovering from flood damage caused by Hurricane Gaston that dumped more than a foot of rain in a few hours on Aug. 30. The hardest hit was the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood. No deaths were reported, but 35 businesses, 25 restaurants and 150 residences became unhabitable. Sen. George Allen, a Republican and former governor, said federal officials will investigate drainage systems as part of their relief effort.

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