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Calm Befalls the Storm

As Charley Spares Area, Residents and Utilities Bask in Reprieve

By Christina A. Samuels
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 16, 2004; Page B01

Charley, a powerful hurricane that faded to a tropical depression, lost interest in the East Coast after hitting Florida and barreling north. Area residents, grateful for the slight, woke yesterday to mild, sunny weather, without the predicted storm damage.

Diane Poole, 47, of Arlington spent yesterday morning and early afternoon rowing on the Potomac River. She started from the Potomac Boat Club in Georgetown and planned to make a nine-mile circuit.

McCall Griffith, 7 , of Boonsboro, Md., relaxes while brushing PJ, one of the Anvil Acres farm's Simmental cows at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair in Gaithersburg. (Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

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"I'm salivating," Poole said before she launched her boat on the smooth, nearly ripple-free water. Saturday's rain had kept her inside. "The big thing that I always worry about in that weather is debris, so I didn't come out. But this is one of those great mornings."

Outdoor enthusiasts weren't the only ones who appreciated the reprieve. Utility companies and emergency planners were ready for problems, anticipating a sequel to last year's Hurricane Isabel, but found their preparations largely unneeded. As Charley made its way up the Atlantic seaboard Saturday, it weakened and veered farther to the east than predicted, sparing much of the District, Maryland and Virginia from the severe weather that demolished homes and killed more than a dozen in central Florida.

"It's the prepare-for-the-worst-and-hope-for-the-best mentality, and we got the best," said David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration. "All in all, for something that was obviously devastating to other parts of the country, we were fortunate to be spared."

Buck said he expected storm-related costs for his agency to be minimal. Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman Ryan Hall said 150 crew members checked drainage structures for debris, a limited number of staff members were on standby at home and there was little, if any, overtime. Bill Rice, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation, estimated standby and overtime costs at less than $2,000.

The 80-member Montgomery County Urban Search and Rescue Team headed to Florida late Saturday to help but was asked to return about 1 a.m. yesterday. The group was told that the state had enough resources to handle the emergency, said Oscar Garcia, county fire and rescue spokesman.

Pepco reported no storm-related power outages in its territory, which consists of the District and most of Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Dominion Virginia Power, which provides electricity to Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, had no storm-related outages in Northern Virginia, spokeswoman Daisy Pridgen said.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which serves much of central Maryland, was more affected, but the problems were not severe or widespread. Several thousand customers were without power in Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties, utility spokeswoman Linda Foy said, but fewer than 150 of those customers were still without power yesterday afternoon, the company reported on its Web site.

The storm's effects were most apparent south and east of the Potomac River. In St. Mary's County, a spotter reported that 2.46 inches of rain fell Saturday. Salisbury, Md., also had 2.46 inches Saturday, and Norfolk was drenched with 3.72 inches, a record for the day in that area.

Businesses close to the water reported a drop in the tourist trade over the weekend. On Maryland's Eastern Shore, the weather canceled concerts, plays and other activities. Ocean City barricaded its boardwalks as a precaution.

No major flooding was reported in Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset or Dorchester counties, but the lunch rush yesterday at Dayton's Restaurant in Cambridge consisted of one family. "It affected business a little bit," owner Henrietta Dayton said.

Washingtonians might be relieved to learn that the season's next two storms are not headed this way. National Weather Service spokesman Greg Romano said forecasters expect Hurricane Danielle, now far out in the mid-Atlantic, to turn north and threaten only shipping lanes in coming days. Tropical Storm Earl, which is whipping up seas off the coast of Venezuela, poses a more direct threat to Jamaica as it heads toward the Gulf of Mexico, Romano said.

Brad Thomas, manager of the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair's carnival, said he welcomed a break from the stormy weather. The constant drizzle and low turnout Saturday prompted the carnival to close at 9:30 p.m., 2 1/2 hours early.

But with rain-free skies yesterday, turnout increased. "It's crowded," Thomas said as he watched stroller-pushing parents stream by. "And I'm happy about that."

Staff writers Avram Goldstein, Manny Fernandez, Joshua Partlow and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

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