- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The view from the Southwest Waterfront has seen better days.

Instead of the serene waters of the Potomac River, walkers and joggers along a tree-lined promenade were greeted by a vast plain of muddy sludge, litter and broken tree branches that coalesced against a stone barrier near the Metropolitan Police Department’s Harbor Patrol pier.

“This happens after every major storm,” said Linda Chandlee, who has lived in Southwest since 1998, as she walked her dog on Wednesday afternoon. “This is pretty bad, though.”

She said it “takes days” to get rid of the debris, based on prior experience.

The scene was one of the scars left by Hurricane Sandy, which met cold air from the west and north to become superstorm Sandy that covered a swath from Maine to the Carolinas on Monday into Tuesday. But the District was largely spared the treacherous conditions that killed at least 55 people in eastern states and prompted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to postpone official Halloween celebrations and trick-or-treating until Monday.

While President Obama visited storm-ravaged shore towns in New Jersey on Wednesday, the nation’s capital returned to normal. Federal and D.C. government offices opened their doors, the vital Metro transit system ran at normal intervals, and students headed back schools ahead of their Halloween trick-or-treating.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray, roughly 24 hours after touring downed trees and shelters in the city, returned to his regular duties by announcing a temporary amnesty program for unlawful businesses that want to obtain a license without facing $2,000 in fines. At the John A. Wilson Building, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the city’s legislative body was “rolling with it” after the two-day tempest knocked their schedule of hearings and meetings off kilter.

The chairman said a combination of preparation and fortune spared the District from the brunt of the storm. At a news conference to discuss the council’s upcoming legislative session, Mr. Mendelson said he was “of two minds” at the outset of the winds and rain.

He said he arrived at city hall as the storm intensified Monday and “couldn’t help but wonder, ‘Did we really need to close the city when this was just a storm?’ I mean, a real big storm.”

“But on the other hand, it’s clear that what happened in New York City could have happened here, if the storm track had been different,” he said. “It’s better to be prepared. It’s better to be safe.”

While no one was killed or injured in the District amid the fierce winds and rain that kicked off the week, the city’s agencies continued Wednesday to remove tree branches and debris, restore traffic signals and monitor the potential for flooding along the banks of the Potomac.

Christopher T. Geldart, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, had warned that runoff from the mountains could cause surges along the river’s banks later in the week. Elevated water levels had subsided by mid-Wednesday, although the agency remained vigilant during high tide.

A few blocks from L’Enfant Plaza, the windows at Jefferson Middle School remained dark at midday. It was the only D.C. Public School to remain closed Wednesday, because utility workers were unable to restore power by 5 a.m., schools spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said.

A large, broken branch that could have been mistaken for a small tree lay in front of the school, and debris along nearby Seventh Street Southwest offered a stark reminder of the inclement weather that had passed through the region. About a block away from the school, a Pepco crew conducted underground repairs.

Meanwhile, officials at D.C. Water said they were pleased that flooding did not ravage the Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park neighborhoods as it did during heavy storms over the summer. Nonetheless, the agency will still work on engineering solutions to stem future problems, agency spokesman Alan Heymann said.

The agency has tried to explain to residents that the intensity of the rain — in relation to the period of time in which it falls — is the key factor. In other words, the neighborhood is much less likely to flood if several inches of rain fall over the course of two days instead of two hours.

Mr. Heymann said the fact that the Rhode Island Avenue corridor did not flood during the hurricane-fueled storm this week “makes that argument a little more real.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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