Ehrlich Asks Bush for Federal Disaster Aid

By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 30, 2006; 4:36 PM

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. today asked President Bush to issue disaster declarations for five counties in the state, including Montgomery County, that were most affected by storms and flooding over the past week.

In addition to Montgomery, the request would cover Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester and Hartford counties. Ehrlich (R) said other areas may be added later.

Once an area is declared a disaster by the president, residents and companies can become eligible for federal assistance and loans to help cover the costs of rebuilding and clean-up.

In Montgomery County, officials were concerned about the Lake Needwood Dam, a 65-foot-high earthen structure that showed signs of leaking on Wednesday. Thousands of nearby residents were evacuated for nearly two days but were allowed to return home last night because water levels had receded. The dam is still being monitored, however.

A Maryland Environmental official said today it could be several days, perhaps even a week, for Lake Needwood's water level to return to normal. At its peak, the water level was 25 feet above normal--but still 10 feet below the top of the dam, said Charles Gates, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

While the dam was rated in "excellent condition" during its annual inspection last October, it has long had problems with seepage, Gates said.

Five other small dams in a rural section of the Eastern Shore collapsed in the flooding, Gates said. And officials had to open some extra spillways on the Howard Duckett dam in Howard County, causing a few evacuations in the Laurel area along the Patuxent River.

As the flood waters have dropped around the area, U.S. Park Police announced today that most of Beach Drive and Rock Creek Parkway through Rock Creek Park is being re-opened. The major thoroughfares were closed for several days because of fallen trees and mud from the recent storms.

Approximately one mile of Beach Drive between Joyce and Broad Branch roads will remain closed for some time because of "serious structural damage to the roadway", said Sgt. Scott Fear, a spokesman for the Park Police. "It doesn't affect traffic too much," Fear said. "You can go up Glover Drive and go around it."

Fear said Rock Creek Parkway was completely open for the morning rush hour Friday. But the stretch of the road south of Virginia Avenue was closed again after the morning rush because large equipment needed to be brought in to get a vehicle out of the creek there.

"We expect to have everything re-opened before the evening rush hour except that one part of Beach Drive," Fear said.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History will re-open to the public Saturday, the museum announced. The museum was closed for five days because of power outages due to the storms.

Staff writer Christian Davenport contributed to this report.

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