- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

This week’s deluge is keeping tourists — and their money — away from popular tourist attractions such as the National Zoo and several museums.

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History and the National Archives have been closed since Monday, when the buildings’ power was shut off. And the National Zoo, which is in Rock Creek Park, had flooding on its boundaries, leading officials to shut down the zoo early and close off parking Monday.

However, tourists have taken the cue to visit other indoor museums this week. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly were more crowded the past two days, said spokeswoman Claire Brown.

“I think that people who are here to visit Washington are looking for places to go. With other places closed, we’re probably seeing more people going here,” she said.

The National Air and Space Museum’s tour guides, curators and scientists could not come to work because of flooding and transportation woes throughout the Washington area. Yet more security, visitor service and maintenance employees are working this week due to increased attendance, she said.

Meanwhile, the National Zoo had “a little less than normal” attendance Monday and yesterday, said spokesman John Gibbons. He couldn’t specify how much sales at the zoo’s food concessions and gift shops were hurt.

“We still have hundreds of visitors coming, but not as much as a warm sunny day. And that’s something that happens any time of the year,” Mr. Gibbons said. “Sales in our merchandise are relative to our visitors. Because there are fewer people, sales might be lower, as well.”

The zoo was open for about five hours Monday when flooding and rain threatened park conditions. When floodwaters reached the park border, zoo officials closed off its parking lots. Yesterday, zoo officials opened the park late and opened three parking lots. Mr. Gibbons said the zoo should return to normal operations starting today.

“Everything is weather-dependent. As long as we don’t have any excessive rainstorms, then we should stay open,” he said. “A lot of our operation is weather-dependent. We have to make the zoo safe.”

Officials with the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History don’t know when the museums will be open. Electrical equipment in federal buildings surrounding the museums was submerged in water.

The National Museum of American History saw 1.3 million visitors from January through May this year, while the National Museum of Natural History had 2.2 million.

Potomac Electric Power Co. cannot restore power until water is pumped out and the electrical equipment is repaired in the buildings, said company spokesman Robert Dobkin.

All of Smithsonian museums lost Internet and telephone access Monday. Staff had to operate through cell-phone and radio communication, officials said. Lines were restored midday yesterday to all museums, except the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History.

This put an extra burden on setup for the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival, which runs Friday through Tuesday and July 7-11. The 40th annual festival will feature cultural exhibits, presentations, crafts and food on the National Mall between Seventh and 14th streets.

Staff have been setting up tents and exhibits since the beginning of last month. But because their communication lines are connected to the two Smithsonian museums that don’t have power, they are having trouble communicating with each other and reaching the festival presenters, said Diana Parker, director of the festival.

“We have no computer or telephone lines. We don’t have access to e-mail. That’s how we communicate with people who are coming,” she said. “It’s not causing any delays in the schedule. It’s just adding stress to a staff that has a tremendous amount to do.”

Communication is especially important now. Trucks have had to maneuver around the Mall to find streets that aren’t closed. Also, many of the presenters are arriving later because their original flights were canceled or delayed.

“They’re coming in whatever way they can figure out. So, they’re coming in a little slow. But they’re still coming,” she said.

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