Saturday, September 2, 2006; Page B01
What was left of Tropical Storm Ernesto delivered a heavy lashing of rain and wind to the Washington area throughout the day yesterday, prompting officials to order evacuations, declare states of emergency and open up shelters.
The brunt of the problem in Washington and its immediate suburbs appeared to be power outages caused by the high winds. Nearly 50,000 homes and businesses in Northern Virginia were without power last night. About 30,000 in the District and Maryland also were without power.
"Do all you can to stay inside. Don't go out if you don't have to," Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said yesterday afternoon, in what seemed to become a battle cry among area emergency officials as the weather got more intense.
State and local emergency officials opened up operations centers across the region, just in case massive flooding and power outages called for additional evacuations or rescues. But most never had to fully activate. They had expected a pummeling, but got a slap. By late afternoon, the storm had been downgraded and the rain estimates had dropped significantly from the four to eight inches originally forecast.
By last night, between one and two inches of rain had fallen in most of the Washington region, the National Weather Service said. St. Mary's County, though, saw nearly six inches and the Shenandoah Valley got almost four.
Sustained winds at Reagan National Airport last night were about 30 mph with gusts over 40.
But for many residents in the region, the whole thing was mostly a nuisance -- little more than a delay to an early Labor Day weekend. But in areas south and east of the District, the storm will be remembered for a long time.
Norfolk and other Hampton Roads communities saw more than six inches of rain, flooding low-lying areas, knocking out power to more than 200,000 customers. In Richmond, more than 200 homes were evacuated and more than 90,000 cstomers without power.
But for othesr, those sill recovering from the storm in June that brought as much as 13 inches of rain to the region, just the looming threat was enough to send them stockpiling sand bags.
"I think people are apprehensive because we don't know how serious this storm is going to be," said Brian Hannigan, a spokesman for Alexandria, which saw massive flooding during June's storm. "Four inches is a lot, and eight inches is a real lot."
Meteorologist Louis Rosa, of the National Weather Service in Sterling, said the threat of flash flooding had greatly diminished by yesterday afternoon, but a swelled Potomac meant costal flooding would remain a possibility through the night. High tide was set for 2 a.m. Fairfax had opened a shelter at Edison High School as a precaution.
Locally, Southern Maryland appeared to be hardest hit. Mark O'Brien awoke yesterday at his St Mary's home to a flooded yard, and he knew instantly it was the beginning of something terrible. By noon, he and his girlfriend had moved one car half a mile inland. By afternoon, the lights and phone lines had gone out. So, with the last few hours of the daylight fading, they frantically stacked all their possessions on tables and couches -- all the while keeping an eye on the waves sloshing back and forth on what used to be their lawn.