- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2012

On a typical morning, the staff at the Happy Paws pet grooming and boarding salon in Northwest Washington washes, trims and cares for as many as 40 dogs.

As Hurricane Sandy moved into the area Monday, however, the staffers who made it to work spent as much time playing cards as playing with pets.

“We’re playing Rat-Tat-Tat,” said Stefanie Duval, owner of Happy Paws, at 4904 Wisconsin Ave. NW. “Only three dogs have come in today. One person came because she lost power. One person came because she wanted to go to the gym. The third person came because she works for a news station and had to go to work.

“We’re staying open. But it’s quiet. Nobody’s coming.”

Across the Washington region and along the East Coast, Sandy’s arrival meant work, school and bridge closings, an emptying of streets in the nation’s most populous corridor. It meant television weather reporters in wind-whipped, rain-pelted network ponchos, unironically warning viewers to stay inside. It meant Washington Wizards forward Jan Vesely tweeting, “I thin[k] about all of you. I hope everything will be OK.” A handmade sign taped to the glass door of a Tenleytown electronics store read “NO C OR D-CELL BATTERIES.”

Mostly, it meant coping.

The Supreme Court was in session Monday — hearing cases involving national security and the resale of consumer goods manufactured overseas — but closed early, postponing Tuesday’s arguments until Thursday. Airports shut down, too, and Gallup’s pollsters suspended their daily “tracking” survey of voters with just over a week before the presidential election. The Tomb Sentinels who patrol the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery were among the few with outdoor jobs who reported for work.

Off work, working out

So did Bryan Bullock, a manager at Crunch Fitness in Northwest Washington.

“I told our staff to go home by 1 p.m. to be safe,” he said. “I’ll pretty much be the only one here. I’m supposed to stay open until 11 p.m. If I find that we still have power and other people lose power, we’ll stay open all night as a safe haven — a warm place to be, to take a hot shower.”

A few minutes after noon on Monday, Mr. Bullock said, about 60 people were exercising at his workplace.

“In the past 10 minutes, I’ve gotten 20 phone calls asking if we’re still open, how late are we going to be open,” he said. “I think people might just be getting stir-crazy.”

In Takoma Park, author and storm specialist Mike Tidwell was busy giving telephone interviews explaining Sandy’s power, how the storm’s surge could flood lower Manhattan, and why superstorms are likely to become more frequent and damaging because of climate change.

Mr. Tidwell also was working from home, where he was running an emergency pump on a window well located on the side of his basement.

“When it rains really hard and the water table rises, I have to go downstairs and turn it on every hour or so to evacuate the water,” said Mr. Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and author of “The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas and the Coming Death of America’s Coastal Cities.” “If the electricity goes off, I’ll have to manually bail.”

Expected power outages were a widespread concern, particularly after a severe storm system known as a derecho swept through the region in late June and left 4.2 million people across 11 states without power, some of them for more than a week.

After Bethesda resident Brett DiResta lost power for four days following the derecho, he and his family spent two days living in a hotel and another two days staying with friends near Washington Dulles International Airport.

The hardest part, Mr. DiResta said with a laugh, was keeping his young children occupied.

“Our kids are 7, 5 and 18 months old,” he said. “Keeping the three of them entertained when there are no lights and it gets dark around 6 [p.m.] — I don’t know what we’re going to do.

“We have a lot of board games, card games, a recharging DVD player. I don’t know how our parents did it when they didn’t have battery-operated DVD players and stuff like that.”

Politicking on hold

A professor at George Washington University and a longtime campaign consultant and political opposition researcher, Mr. DiResta said the storm could wreak havoc with regional and national political campaigns running a frenzied sprint to the Election Day finish line next week.

Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, said his organization canceled all of its Monday volunteer shifts, in part because the state canceled early voting.

Anticipating the storm, Mr. Levin’s organization — which supports a ballot question in support of gay marriage — asked its supporters to turn out for early voting last weekend.

“We saw a huge spike in turnout on Saturday and Sunday versus the first couple of early voting [days] in previous elections,” he said. “We did a last-second ad buy focusing on websites and mobile apps that do weather tracking and predictions. We’re also doing an extra push on social media, figuring that people will be there emailing and checking Facebook until the power goes out.

“The real question will be, what is the damage from the storm? How many people have power out, for how long? If the power is out, do people not see commercials being aired by both sides? And on Election Day, will people still be focused on cleaning up?”

Conspiracy theories

Reports that storm-related federal government office closings could potentially delay Friday’s scheduled release of October’s jobs report by the Department of Labor touched off political conspiracy chatter online, with Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley writing on Twitter that “Labor Dept says may not release latest unemployment figures until after election. Par for course.

Why release something might hurt Obama elect?”

Like many federal employees, Matthew Sigafoose, a research psychologist at U.S. Office of Personnel Management, spent Monday working from home.

Mr. Sigafoose lives in Calvert County, about three miles west of the Chesapeake Bay. Because his house is surrounded by tall trees on three sides, he said, he and his family planned to sleep in their basement.

“The kids will actually have a fort set up with a tent, so they think that’s pretty cool,” he said. “This is our second hurricane in this house. After [Hurricane] Isabel last year, I woke up to find three neighbors in my front yard getting ready to chop up a couple of trees that fell across my driveway.”

Mr. Sigafoose laughed.

“It was extra reassuring, because I don’t have a chain saw,” he said.

For her part, Ms. Duval said she planned to spend Monday night at Happy Paws, taking care of the dogs being boarded at her salon.

“We have blow-up mattresses and blankets, so it’s very comfortable here,” she said. “I brought my dog to work, but had to leave my cat at home, so I’ll go home later and make sure she’s OK. She’s probably thinking, ‘Good, they’re gone. The dog always eats my food anyway.’”

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