Torrential rains inundate D.C. region: 3 killed, roads closed

September 9, 2011

Flooding and rain continued to wreak havoc on commutes across the Washington region Friday morning, even as Thursday’s torrential downpours — which killed three people, trapped scores of terrified motorists, forced hundreds to evacuate and shut major highways — began to taper off.

Police identified the victims of the flash floods, two in Fairfax County and one in Anne Arundel County, Friday morning after family members were notified.

The victims included 12-year-old Jack Donaldson, who was swept away by the flood-swollen waters of Piney Branch Creek in Vienna, 67-year-old Arsalan Hakiri, who was killed near his stranded vehicle in Great Falls, and 49-year-old Daniel Lambert, who drowned in Pasadena, Md., authorities said.

On the roadways, drivers encountered general congestion throughout the region, with Interstate 395 North backed up for much of Friday morning.

“I can’t recall flooding like this. This is unprecedented,” Joan Morris, a spokewoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said.

A stretch of the Beltway that had been closed Thursday night was reopened Friday morning. VDOT and Virginia State Police had ordered the Beltway closed from Route 1 to the Mixing Bowl at I-395, as the waters of Cameron Run spilled onto the highway, Morris said.

Maryland officials closed the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Thursday to keep cars off the flooded portion of the Beltway in Virginia, but the bridge was reopened to traffic before midnight.

While there were no Metro problems reported, MARC service was delayed and VRE service was canceled Friday due to flooding on the tracks.

[For a full listing of road closures and other traffic and transit issues, click here.]

The unrelenting rains, sometimes falling at four inches an hour, closed schools, courthouses and government buildings in Prince George’s and Charles counties. Cars were flooded at a park-and-ride lot in Reston and at auto dealerships in Upper Marlboro. Commuter trains were halted. Basements flooded. People were stranded. Homes were evacuated in Prince William, Prince George’s and Fairfax.

Fairfax and Prince William County officials decided to close schools Friday because so many roads were flooded, and Prince William declared a local state of emergency. Virginia Railway Express will not operate trains on either line, because of flooded tracks.

Additionally, Prince William County issued a “boil water advisory” Friday for customers in the Woodbridge area bound by I-95 and Route 1, south of Occoquan Road and north of Prince William County Parkway. This area includes the neighborhoods of Marumsco Village, Millwood Estates, Maben Woods and Ashford. Residents are advised to bring water to a rolling boil for one minute and allow it to cool before drinking, or to use bottled water until further notice is given.

[For a full list of school closings and other cancellations, click here.]

Fairfax fire and rescue teams rescued more than 100 stranded motorists Thursday, including 12 on Cinderbed Road in Lorton. Six were helped from their cars on Interstate 95 at Telegraph Road, said Glenn Barbour, a county spokesman. Earlier in the day, rescue workers in Prince George’s helped scores of similarly stranded drivers.

As many as 200 people complied with orders to evacuate the Huntington area of Fairfax. Many gathered at the Lee District Recreation Center, which county officials opened as a reception area until they could make other plans for the night. The Red Cross was working to accommodate some in hotels, officials said.

“There are many roads that are impassable and underwater,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon S. Bulova.

County officials said they were keeping an eye on 19 state-regulated dams, most of them in the Pohick watershed.

Police said the 12-year-old boy who was killed, Jake Donaldson, was playing with his friends in the back yard of his home in the 9700 block of Marcliff Court near Piney Branch Creek about 6:22 p.m. when he was reported missing. His body, swept away by flood waters, was found around 8 p.m. in Piney Branch Creek at Lawyers Road.

About 7 p.m., 67-year-old Arsalan Hakiri either stepped away from his stranded vehicle or was swept away by swiftly rising waters at Carrwood and Beach Mills roads in Great Falls, said Lucy Caldwell, a spokeswoman for Fairfax police.

In Pasadena, in Anne Arundel County, 49-year-old Daniel Lambert apparently drowned near his home, police said. Lambert lived in the 400 block of Riverside Drive, alongside a tributary from the Chesapeake Bay. Police said he was pulled from the water and taken to Baltimore Washington Medical Center, but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

The rain seemed to pound the region. When it stopped in Maryland, it deluged Northern Virginia. Then it started in Maryland again. Then Fairfax again.

In Fairfax, Route 50 was closed for hours near the Fair Oaks Mall. School buses were delayed and rerouted because of flooded roads, and students were held late at several schools. Prince William officials evacuated about 150 residents at two mobile home parks.

Since Monday, parts of Fairfax, Prince George’s and Charles counties have been inundated with more than a foot of rain, including seven inches or more on Thursday.

“This is one of the more impressive widespread flooding events in decades,” said Jason Samenow, a meteorologist with The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.

As bad as the flooding was in the Washington region, the rain train might have been worse to the north. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, record-breaking flooding caused by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee also forced evacuations, including along the Susquehanna River, which overflowed retaining walls in Binghamton, N.Y.

In Port Deposit, Md., a Susquehanna town northeast of Baltimore, rising water forced officials to open the floodgates and order about 1,000 residents to evacuate.

The rain was socking the region because of a logjam in the atmosphere, with the remnants of Lee to the west and Hurricane Katia to the east in the Atlantic, Samenow said. A front hovering over the area had the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast caught in the middle, he said.

“There’s a stagnant weather pattern we’re currently in,” said Carrie Suffern, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “That’s why we continue to get more and more rain.”

Samenow said that the rain would probably decrease in coverage and intensity overnight but that there is a chance of heavy showers Friday. Those rains would be less widespread and persistent than Thursday’s, he said. There is a chance of showers this weekend, but the area should dry out early next week.

Still, Samenow said, Saturday will mark the peak of hurricane season. “In the next several weeks, there is a risk additional tropical systems could impact us.”

The storms have also been fickle. Areas such as Upper Marlboro, Reston and Fairfax had severe flooding, while places that normally flood, such as the Georgetown and Alexandria waterfronts, fared better. That is because the waterfronts usually become waterlogged due to storm surge and high winds, but this storm was mostly dumping rain, saturating the already wet ground, Samenow said.

In Prince George’s, firefighters raced from call to call Wednesday night and Thursday as they helped dozens of people out of cars overtaken by floodwater. In at least two cases people were trapped in their vehicles with water moving around them. Rescuers pulled them into boats and delivered them to higher ground, said Mark Brady, a Prince George’s EMS spokesman.

“They definitely were in harm’s way,” Brady said.

Rescue workers saved Sharon Monroe of Upper Marlboro after she had climbed into her attic when water started gushing into her home. “I figured eventually someone would come along,” she said.

Officials evacuated sections of Upper Marlboro on Thursday morning, paddling to homes and businesses to take as many as 20 people to safety, Brady said.Many others seemed to evacuate on their own, he said.

Sections of the Huntington area of Fairfax were evacuated Thursday evening as floodwaters persisted.

Unwanted water crept over the hoods of trucks at Upper Marlboro businesses, and an odor of petroleum hung in the air. Water was reaching windows in some businesses, and debris was “floating everywhere,” he said.

“Right now, Upper Marlboro is besieged by floodwaters,” Brady said Thursday.

The Prince George’s courthouse and administration building were closed all day.

Sewer overflows were reported at two Washington area pumping stations but had not affected the safety of drinking water, officials said.

“If I had a canoe, I could float right through my store window,” said Mike Kress, owner of Marlboro Tire and Automotive in Upper Marlboro, which took in nine inches of water.

Kress sat at a friend’s auto body shop across the street from his own. Police told him he could no longer use the small boat he had been using to cross the street to his home and business. He suddenly started giggling.

“You have to laugh to keep from crying,” he said, noting that he’d slept for only two hours. “You can’t make this stuff up.”

In Severn, in Anne Arundel County, a man and woman in their 60s were trapped in water at Burns Crossing Road and Old Mill Road about 1:30 a.m. Thursday. By the time police arrived, the couple had gotten out of their car and were on the side of the road, clutching a guardrail for support as water raced around them. The man slipped and went underwater but was quickly saved by a police officer, officials said. The road where he had been standing was washed away, police said.

Christopher Wiggins, 31, who lives in King George, came upon a 20-by-12-foot sinkhole along Route 301 in La Plata as he was driving to a doctor’s appointment in the District.

“I am sick and tired of being wet,” he said. “We were without power for four days after Irene. My theory is, someone must be having a really good joke with us. . . . No, actually, I wouldn’t say that, because it’s not funny.”

kleinallison@washpost.com

kunklef@washpost.com

craigt@washpost.com

Staff writers Emma Brown, Jennifer Buske, Aaron Davis, Maggie Fazeli Fard, Darryl Fears, Erica Morrison, Miranda Spivack, Clarence Williams and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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