Floods, Mudslides Alter Busy Routines in D.C.-Maryland Area

June 28, 2006

In Washington, D.C., a city that always seems to be in a hurry, this week’s soggy weather forced almost everyone to slow down.

Water and mudslides blocked highways. Commuter rail lines sputtered. Some federal office buildings closed, and other government workers were given liberal leave.

Although the federal government remained open, several agency buildings were closed because of flooding, including the Internal Revenue Service headquarters, the Commerce Department, Justice Department and the National Archives, home to the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and other historic documents.

The National Archives and the IRS were to remain closed Tuesday. Despite the high water, all records and national treasures remained “safe and dry,” Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said.

The Commerce building had flooding in the basement, and elevators and air conditioners were inoperable.

The National Gallery of Art also was closed due to a weather-related outage in the steam system that supplies needed humidity for the priceless collection. None of the art works was in danger, a spokeswoman said. The National Zoo, which had opened to pedestrians despite closed parking lots, shut down entirely in the afternoon.

The weather caused an elm tree at least 100 years old to fall near the front door of the White House, said Bill Line, a National Park Service spokesman. The tree temporarily blocked part of a road on the Pennsylvania Avenue side.

The fallen tree resembled one of two that appear on the back of the $20 bill framing the White House. While Line could not confirm that it is the one depicted, its location, size and its similarity to a tree that remains standing are notable. He referred further questions to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which manufactures U.S. currency.

The storm dumped just over 10 inches of rain in Hyattsville, just northeast of the District of Columbia, from 11 a.m. Sunday to 11 a.m. Monday, said National Weather Service meteorologist John Darnley in Sterling, Va. Two more inches were expected across the region Monday, and rain is in the forecast every day this week because of a stubborn low-pressure system off the coast.

A single-car crash that killed one person near Bowie, Md. was likely weather related, said Mark Brady, a Prince George’s County fire and rescue spokesman.

Hyattsville authorities evacuated 15 homes and used boats to rescue 69 people who were trapped inside, said Brady. Boats also were also used to rescue 30 people who were trapped for an hour in a Chevy Chase recreation center.

Drivers were urged to avoid downtown Washington and Harford County, Md., northeast of Baltimore, due to possible mudslides, downed trees and water-covered roads.

“The fewer people on the road, the better,” Harford County spokeswoman Susan Collins said.

Anne Arundel County authorities reported five water rescues.

On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, assessment teams with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency were trying to determine whether there was enough damage to merit a presidential disaster declaration, spokesman Ed McDonough said. The waters of the Marshy Hope Creek in Federalsburg had receded, a day after flooding closed roads and forced residents from their homes.

Sahree Grant, 27, said she planned to remain in her rented home, despite damage to the foundation.

“We really have nowhere else to go, she said.”

A mudslide piled debris as high as 5 feet on the Capital Beltway, which carries Interstate 95 around Washington. The highway was closed in both directions near Alexandria, Va., for much of the morning, said Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Joan Morris.

The Potomac River’s Northwest Branch overflowed early Monday morning, covering U.S. 29, a major commuter route through Silver Spring, Md., with 5 feet of water and leaving a layer of mud that closed nearly a mile of the six-lane highway much of the day.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Wayne A. Mowdy, an assistant district engineer with the State Highway administration who has worked in the area for 28 years.

Amtrak and CSX service in the area were disrupted, closing MARC’s Camden and Brunswick commuter lines in Maryland all day and all Virginia Railway Express trains. CSX officials said crews were working to repair signals, clear trees and debris and move stranded freight trains.

Metro subway service in the city was interrupted during the morning commute by high water on the electrified rails, said spokeswoman Candace Smith. Service was restored by noon.

In Elkton, Md., a 6-foot-wide, 2-foot deep pothole opened on I-95, blocking traffic in two northbound lanes, state police said. A maintenance crew and state engineer were analyzing the damage.

Thousands of residents lost power. Dominion Virginia Power reported more than 2,600 customers were without power in northern Virginia, and Pepco was reporting about 11,500 outages in Washington and in the Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George’s.

Martin Crutsinger, Derrill Holly, Marty Niland and Brett Zongker in Washington, and Kristin Wyatt in Federalsburg, Md., contributed to this story.

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