- Associated Press - Thursday, December 2, 2010

BALTIMORE | It was a long and harrowing ride Thursday morning for passengers on a ferry that carries cars across the Potomac River upstream from Washington.

White’s Ferry became stranded in the water after debris began accumulating on the cables that guide it across the river between Leesburg, Va., and Poolesville, Md., fire officials said. The cables eventually snapped, causing the ferry to drift down the Potomac.

No one was injured, but some passengers were stranded for about five hours.

“We started drifting quickly. It’s a powerful current,” passenger Michelle Samuel told The Associated Press. “There were points where I got a little panicked, but once the fire department got involved, I felt a lot better.”

This week’s rainstorms caused the debris — large trees and branches — to float down the Potomac and accumulate on the cable, Assistant Chief Scott Graham of the fire department said.

The debris accumulated faster than it could be removed, Graham said, until a large tree came along and snapped the cable, Graham said. At that point, the ferry began floating down the river, and a crew member used the motor to guide it to shore, about 150 feet downstream from the landing.

A swift water rescue team began collecting 14 passengers around 2:30 p.m. The last passenger was taken to safety around 3:30, Graham said — five hours after the ordeal began. Their cars, however, remained on board, and the ferry operators were planning to tug the boat back to the landing so the vehicles could be removed.

Ferry operators could not be reached for comment. White’s Ferry is the only ferry remaining on the Potomac and has been in operation since 1782, according to its Facebook page.

The first call to the fire department came from a passenger and not the operators, Graham said. He said the department would investigate to determine whether rescuers should have been called sooner.

Samuel told AP that she called 911. She also said it was her last trip on White’s Ferry, even though avoiding the boat will add about an hour to the journey from her Maryland home to Virginia.

“I don’t want to come anywhere near this place,” she said.


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