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Close Calls in the Rising Waters

His only thought, once all four were safe: No one was injured.

In fact, in numerous strandings and rescues throughout the region, few were hurt.

Emma Setchell of Australia and Ruari Markham and Clifford the dog, both of Takoma Park, watch the Sligo Creek Parkway cleanup. (Katherine Frey For The Washington Post)

A Night of Flash Flooding
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U.S. Park Police and D.C. fire crews rescued people in three vehicles trapped in floodwater between 10 and 10:30 p.m. A National Zoo police officer leaving work became trapped in his car in standing water that had overflowed from Rock Creek, D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said.

Firefighters standing on the far bank of Rock Creek stretched a ladder to the car to form a bridge. One firefighter climbed across it and gave the man a flotation vest before bringing him out of the car.

Five family members, trapped in a vehicle heading north on Beach Drive just south of Porter Street, were saved when a Park Police officer waded through waist-high moving water to help them, said Sgt. Scott Fear, spokesman for the Park Police. About the same time, another Park Police officer spotted an elderly couple clinging to a stop sign as water rushed past them, Fear said. They had escaped their vehicle, which had become submerged on southbound Rock Creek Parkway.

Neal Dipasquale, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's forecast office in Sterling, began issuing flash flood watches and warnings as the storm developed late Tuesday afternoon.

Rain and thunderstorms began forming and re-forming in the same area, lining up and moving from southwest to northeast through Virginia, the District and Maryland.

"We call it a training event," he said, "because all the storms act like a train. The first one sets up the pattern, and all the others line up and follow each other."

Tim Pfabe, 48, had been enjoying a steak and sushi dinner in Bethesda with his brother and high school buddy when the rain began to fall Tuesday evening. The three men, who vowed when they were students at Magruder High School that they would hike and camp in every national park in the United States, were poring over trail maps of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, planning their upcoming trip.

The men delayed leaving the restaurant as they waited for the rain to stop. Finally, close to 10 p.m., they decided to leave. Pfabe drove his 1999 red Jeep Cherokee Sport, which has four-wheel drive.

As he rounded a bend on the darkened Kensington Parkway, Pfabe felt his vehicle pull. The puddle of water they had been driving through was now splashing up over the hood onto his windshield. His buddies urged him on. But once the swelling water covered the exhaust pipe, the car died. "I was really afraid of being stranded," he said. The men took off their pants and shoes and, in their underwear, pushed the Jeep out of the flood a few hundred yards to dry land.

Shortly before 3 p.m. yesterday, Pfabe returned to bail the water out and try to start his vehicle. Finally, with a reluctant splutter, it roared to life. Thick blue smoke splatted from the tailpipe.

"Next time," he said. "I'm going to back up and turn around."

Staff writers Lyndsey Layton, Amit R. Paley and Steven Ginsberg contributed to this report.

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