After the Deluge, Death and Debris

In Ladiesburg, Frederick County, friends assemble at a swollen creek where two teenagers are presumed drowned. Allyson Lethbridge hugs John Creswell; her mother, Donna Lethbridge, is at left and her sister Brittany is at right.
In Ladiesburg, Frederick County, friends assemble at a swollen creek where two teenagers are presumed drowned. Allyson Lethbridge hugs John Creswell; her mother, Donna Lethbridge, is at left and her sister Brittany is at right. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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By Alec MacGillis and Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 29, 2006

The historic rain that battered the Washington area claimed its first flooding victims, forced additional evacuations and endangered a dam yesterday, even as the weather front finally released its stubborn grip on the region.

The toll from the nearly four-day deluge was only starting to come into focus. Three people drowned in Frederick County, and two teenagers were missing and presumed dead from rain-swollen creeks. More than 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Montgomery County, where officials worried that a dam would fail. The rain also caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses.

Hydrological totals tell the story of what the region endured. Since the start of the weekend, 13.1 inches of rain has fallen in parts of the area. The series of storms broke the 24-hour, 48-hour and one-week records for rain at Reagan National Airport, the National Weather Service reported.

The sunny skies that prevailed for most of the day signaled that the front that stalled here had at last moved up the coast, where it was forcing the evacuations yesterday of more than 200,000 people in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. Rivers in those states were still rising last night, washing out roads and bridges and trapping scores of people. At least four deaths in Pennsylvania and three in New York were blamed on the storm.

Forecasters said the Washington area is returning to a more normal summer weather pattern, with the possibility of isolated showers or thunderstorms over the next couple of days. They popped up in spots yesterday.

The tropical air mass that hung over the area and caused the downpours has moved out and is being replaced by drier air from the northwest.

Several federal office buildings, the American History and Natural History museums and the Smithsonian Castle will remain closed today as workers continue to clean up. The National Archives and the downtown headquarters of the Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service are closed for the rest of the week.

For many, yesterday was fairly normal compared with earlier in the week. That gave officials the chance to start trying to assess the long-term impact of the record rain. Such an assessment won't be easy, given the duration of the rains and the breadth of the impact, from thousands of flooded basements and cars to ruined crops to several lost days of business for several major District institutions.

"We're not even close to being able to calculate financial damages," said Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. "Unlike a hurricane or a tropical storm, where it's in and out in 24 hours or less and then you go out and assess the damage, this has been going on for four or five days now."

To take the first step in securing federal aid, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) declared a statewide emergency yesterday. Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who visited a shelter in Wheaton yesterday, was deciding last night whether to declare a statewide emergency, a spokesman said. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) declared a state of emergency in the District on Tuesday night but allowed it to expire yesterday.

"We were concerned that another 4--6 inches of rain last night could have made an already bad situation truly scary," Williams said in a written statement. "Fortunately, and unexpectedly, the weather took a turn for the better and gave us a day filled with sun, allowing us to dig out and residents to dry out."

In Fairfax County, damage was estimated at more than $11 million, much of it in the Arlington Terrace neighborhood along Cameron Run in the Huntington section, said county Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D). Connolly said the county will ask the Army Corps of Engineers to study whether the nearby excavation of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge may have worsened flooding, as residents have alleged. Bridge officials have ruled out the possibility.

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