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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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The disappearance of the two boys, who were best friends and students at Walkersville High School, shook the community. Dozens of friends and family members gathered at the creek.

A classmate, Amanda Renner, 16, said the boys enjoyed paintball, riding dirt bikes and fishing for catfish.

Michael has worked part time at the McDonald's in nearby Walkersville, where his mother, Cheryl White, is the manager and has worked since the restaurant opened 17 years ago. Charlotte Masser, an assistant manager whom Michael called "Grandma," described him as well dressed and courteous, willing to help out with even the most undesirable tasks, like cleaning the restrooms. "He always had a smile," she said. "He was just one remarkable, lovable boy."

In western Virginia, the Associated Press reported, searchers found the body yesterday of an 8-year-old girl swept away on Tuesday in a flooded Alleghany County creek. The body of Nikki Godbold was found about 1:30 p.m. just over a mile from where she disappeared in Dunlap Creek.

In Montgomery County, officials were still worried last night about the possible failure of the dam at the southern tip of Lake Needwood near Rockville, where the water level came within a few feet of overflowing Tuesday night. County Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Romer ordered an evacuation early yesterday for people in low-lying areas south of the lake.

Police officers and firefighters were dispatched to bang on doors. Most residents in the nearly 1,200 households left their homes. Roughly 130 people refused to leave, and 178 residences were unoccupied, county officials said. Some evacuees sought temporary shelter with friends and relatives, while nearly 420 were at shelters set up at nearby schools. A handful who left their homes with pets in tow were taken to the Montgomery fairgrounds.

State and county engineers worked furiously yesterday to plug a half-dozen small leaks at the base of the earthen dam, which is 426 feet long and 65 feet high. The water level at the lake, which was 22 feet above normal, engulfed a boathouse and a large parking lot. The dam is considered among the state's most hazardous because so many people live in flood-prone areas to the south.

Romer said last night that residents would not be allowed to return home until today at the earliest. He said the dam is in stable condition, but that could change. The lake is being drained slowly, but engineers fear that water pressure could cause enough erosion to rupture the dam, which could leave hundreds of houses under water.

A county spokeswoman said at 11 p.m. that the condition of the dam would be reassessed this morning.

Elsewhere in the region, the focus yesterday moved to recovering from damage already done.

In Fairfax's Arlington Terrace, one of the region's worst-hit neighborhoods, some sense of normalcy returned. Generators pumped water out of soggy basements and provided light to dank interiors still cut off the power grid. Washing machines, mattresses and other mud-stained debris were piled neatly in front of homes. Volunteers are being urged to come to the area tomorrow to help with the cleanup, Fairfax Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) told residents at a meeting.

Still, most knew hard times were ahead.

"Everything gets a little better and a little worse each day," said Rick Record, 53, a management consultant, who was hosing off the sidewalk in front of a neighbor's home yesterday afternoon.

The water damage he thought had been limited to his basement had begun seeping into the floorboards of the main floor, he said. Many of his neighbors learned that their flood and homeowners insurance wouldn't cover the kind of damage they had suffered. The good news: "It's not raining today," he said.


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