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Rock Creek's Scenic Drive Battered

This car is among 15 vehicles that were washed away by floodwaters in Rock Creek Park between Virginia Avenue and Calvert Street. Police are unsure how they became stranded but said all the owners apparently reached safety.
This car is among 15 vehicles that were washed away by floodwaters in Rock Creek Park between Virginia Avenue and Calvert Street. Police are unsure how they became stranded but said all the owners apparently reached safety. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By D'Vera Cohn and Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 1, 2006

A green Volkswagen Jetta with D.C. plates lay with its nose immersed in muddy, bubbling Rock Creek yesterday, a jagged hole where its rear window used to be. Huge broken tree limbs were sprawled nearby across the water.

The ruined car, one of 15 vehicles stranded by floodwaters during this week's pounding, relentless rainstorms, was the first stop on a tour of destruction along Rock Creek Parkway, where around every curve lay a panorama of ransacked landscape. Much of the parkway was closed to traffic from Monday until yesterday's rush hour because of damage and threats of further flooding.

"It was worse than Isabel, and that was significant damage for us," said Cynthia Cox, assistant superintendent of the 1,800-acre Rock Creek Park, referring to the 2003 hurricane. She said creek waters have not receded enough for officials to know the extent of the damage.

As most of the parkway reopened, other parts of Washington also sprang back to life. The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, closed for five days because of flooding, reopens today. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival began yesterday as scheduled, and the National Gallery, National Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian Castle have reopened. But the National Archives will remain closed for now.

Cleanup has been an immense job. In the worst-hit area of Rock Creek Park, from Virginia Avenue NW nearly to Military Road NW, crews hauled 18 trees off the parkway. An 82-foot section of pavement was eroded on Beach Drive, and parts of the bicycle path were blocked. Picnic tables were dumped downstream. Flooding damaged Peirce Mill, the park's Nature Center and its police station.

Park Police are not sure how the vehicles ended up stranded and abandoned, but they said that after the cars stalled in the water, the owners apparently got to safety. No injures were reported, although police rescued a taxi driver who called 911 for help from Beach Drive.

Tow crews hope to remove the Jetta today. They have tried twice since Tuesday, but the roiling water made it too risky. Most vehicles washed away by the rain had water up to their windows, Park Police Sgt. Scott Fear said. One vehicle's back end was pushed into a tree, five feet off the ground.

"A beautiful BMW, minivans -- you name it, all different kinds of cars," Fear said.

The mud that oozed onto the parkway had turned to silt, throwing up dust clouds as Fear drove slowly north in his police cruiser. He pulled over just south of the Massachusetts Avenue NW exit, pointing to an area of the road that had been flooded. A three-man crew, wearing hip boots and blue plastic gloves, worked with shovels, a hose and a pump to clear a stuffed drain.

Just short of the Cathedral Avenue NW exit was what might be called the park's tree graveyard. Piles of limbs and trunks lay on the side of the road, waiting to be fed into a large yellow machine -- the Intimidator -- to be chipped and ground.

Earlier, standing near the Jetta, the park's tree superintendent, Mike Papa, explained that the storm did not discriminate against any particular type of tree.

"Maples, elm, walnut -- all through here," he said, gesturing toward the southern end of the park. "At the north end, I had a lot of red oaks."

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