As showers abate, D.C. area starts to dry out, recover from flooding

Residents in the Washington region stepped out into clearing skies and drying streets Thursday as they assessed the damage caused by the previous days of torrential rains and flash floods.

While no major injuries were reported in the aftermath of the record-setting rainfall, some residents were scrambling to find places to sleep and ways to get to work as the wet weather forced evacuations, road closures and school delays.

Laurel, Md., bore some of the most significant flooding problems, and city officials evacuated hundreds of residents, including about 200 seniors in an apartment complex off of Main Street. A parking lot in Laurel Park was filled with nearly a dozen half-sunk RVs, horse trailers, trucks and school buses, while downed tree limbs crisscrossed the woods around a water-logged golf course.

“They knocked on the door at 3 in the morning and kicked us out,” said 74-year-old Mary Bianco, one of the seniors evacuated. “Firemen and policemen told us all we had to leave.”

Bianco’s granddaughter was spending the night to take Bianco to a 6 a.m. medical appointment. They wound up at a relative’s house a few blocks away.

Those who did not find refuge with friends and family members went to a city shelter, where about 140 residents spent the night, said Audrey Barnes, a spokeswoman for Laurel. “That’s the most we’ve ever seen [at the shelter] after a flood event,” Barnes said. “People took it very seriously.”

Barnes said it is too soon to get a complete grasp of the damage. “We’re just going to wait for the water to recede and go out and do a complete damage assessment,” she said.

Swaths of the city were flooded after the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission conducted a controlled release at the T. Howard Duckett Dam on the Patuxent River near Interstate 95. The utility had been releasing water since Sunday, when heavy rains were first forecast, but on Wednesday night, a WSSC inspector at the dam noticed that water was pouring through a joint, officials said. The utility increased the flows released to prevent potential problems at the reservoirs that store 30 percent of the drinking water for the nearly 2 million customers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, WSSC officials said.

A car dealership downstream along Route 1 in Laurel and other businesses were hit hard by the rising waters.

About three feet of water coursed through the property where Fred Frederick has sold cars for the past 55 years. About 3 a.m., he and his staff had to move 263 cars off the lot, he said. They moved the vehicles back once the water drained. Nearly 30 vehicles were ruined, he said.

“It’s aggravating,” said Frederick, who blames much of the damage on the WSSC. He said the utility should have provided more notice before the water release. “This is not flooding as a result of an act of God.”

Utility spokesman Jim Neustadt said the storm was particularly problematic because it dumped heavy rain on two reservoirs simultaneously. The WSSC said it also had to release water from the Brighton Dam in Brookeville.

While the WSSC coordinates regularly with Laurel officials downstream along the Patuxent River, he said, there wasn’t enough time to notify them before fully opening the gates. City officials were notified after the release of water was stepped up, he said.

“We wish we could have given them more notice, but we had to act quickly and make a decision and then make the phone calls,” Neustadt said.

The excessive rainfall also caused overflows Wednesday night at five WSSC facilities in Prince George’s and Montgomery, where more than 5 million gallons of untreated sewage poured out of pumping stations. Utility company officials said the drinking water system is separate from the wastewater system and was not affected by the overflows.

In other parts of the region, standing water still covered some Fairfax County and Alexandria roads Thursday, but officials said there was little to trouble them by day’s end. Many roads closed in the District have reopened, but parts of Beach Drive will remain closed through Friday, Park Police Sgt. Alice Wilson said, including the stretch from Rock Creek Parkway to Porter Street.

Waters continued to rise in some parts of Maryland as Laurel recovered. The Potomac River around Great Falls more than doubled its normal depth to nine feet by Thursday afternoon and was expected to rise a bit more, said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for Montgomery’s Fire and Rescue Service.

Flooding was also reported in Bowie and Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s at midday Thursday, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the county Fire/EMS Department. And at least one family in Hyattsville was evacuated late Wednesday. But, for the most part, the region is drying out.

“As quick as it comes,” Brady said, “it also goes.”

Dana Hedgpeth, Jason Samenow and Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.

Dana Hedgpeth, Jason Samenow and Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.
Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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