- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

3:35 p.m.

Ernesto swept into the region today without its hurricane status but with enough rain and wind to cause at least one serious accident and close schools.

Ten Montgomery County middle school students were injured after a van skidded out of control at about 7:10 a.m. and hit them at a bus stop in Silver Spring. Six of the students were taken to Children’s Hospital in the District with injuries described as serious but not life-threatening.

“The van appeared to have lost control and skidded [and] ran into the kids,” said Montgomery County Fire Department spokesman Pete Piringer.

The storm, which the National Weather Service downgraded to a tropical depression at 10:30 a.m., also was a factor in a fatal traffic accident in Colonial Heights in central Virginia.

The brunt of the storm is expected to hit this region this afternoon and last through tomorrow morning.

The weather service also has issued a flash-flood watch for the area through late this evening. Three to six inches of rain and wind gusts of up to 45 mph are expected.

By 11 a.m., the storm’s center was near the North Carolina-Virginia border, about 80 miles from Norfolk. As the storm surged up the coast, nearly 300,000 power outages were reported in Virginia, mostly in the southeastern part of the commonwealth.

“The rain and winds could get heavy in some areas,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said additional personnel are on standby.

“No roads have flooded yet, but the storm is just starting to really hit the region now,” he said.

Though no significant crashes have been reported in the region, Mr. Buck warned that slick highways, coupled with holiday traffic, could make for a tough drive.

“When there hasn’t been rain for as long as [we] went, when it does happen, all of the oil and dirt that has built up comes to the road’s surface, which make conditions extra slippery,” he said.

Numerous school districts in Maryland closed early and canceled after-school activities. Calvert, Charles and Frederick counties were among the eight districts that closed at least one hour early.

In Virginia, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine declared a state of emergency yesterday. The state’s Department of Transportation has placed crews on standby, and nearly 3,900 agency workers and contractors are on call.

Crews have cleaned ditches and cleared storm drains in preparation for the storm, officials said.

In Old Town Alexandria, a flood-prone area next to the Potomac River, residents and merchants began the usual task of lining their doors with sandbags as floodwaters slowly edged toward doors and storefronts.

City officials are expecting water levels to rise up to 2 feet more than normal during high tide tonight.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams also declared a state of emergency yesterday. He urged residents to check on neighbors — particularly the elderly and disabled — and to travel by mass transit if possible.

Metro called in extra personnel last night to monitor conditions, but by midday reported no problems with rail service.

The agency has placed hundreds of sandbags in low-lying areas, vent shafts and grates near several stations. Metro has 12 tons of sand ready for use.

The agency also brought in extra sump pumps for use between the Braddock Road and Pentagon Metrorail stations on the Blue and Yellow lines.

City officials opened the Emergency Operations Center this morning. The District continued distributing sandbags today to residents in low-lying areas.

D.C. Police, U.S. Park Police and the city’s transportation department are monitoring intersections for possible power outages that may cause traffic signals to malfunction.

As of 1:30 p.m., more than 7,000 Pepco customers were without power, including more than 3,000 in Prince George’s County.

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. reported more than 6,700 outages, about 3,600 of which were in Anne Arundel County.

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