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Winter's Icy Bite to Linger

Mark Hannah of Washington Gas restarts Mamie Liu's hot water heater in Potomac. Record demand for power triggered a problem that cut off heat to about 600 houses there.
Mark Hannah of Washington Gas restarts Mamie Liu's hot water heater in Potomac. Record demand for power triggered a problem that cut off heat to about 600 houses there. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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By Paul Schwartzman and Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The ferocious cold snap disrupted life across the region for a second day yesterday, breaking boilers and bursting water pipes, forcing several schools to close early and causing hundreds of homes in Maryland to lose heat.

On the coldest day of this winter, a record demand for power triggered a mechanical problem that cut off heat to about 600 houses along River Road in Potomac, Washington Gas officials said.

As utility workers went door to door to relight gas pilot lights in homes, Montgomery County officials set up a shelter at the Potomac Community Center. They provided cots and other provisions but urged residents to bring blankets and pillows.

As of 7 p.m. they appeared to have few takers. It appeared that many of those affected were following the example of Elizabeth Silva, who lives in the Potomac Manors subdivision. She said her family intended to tough it out last night and stay home, bundling up with layers to ward off the cold.

"I grew up in Connecticut. It's really not that bad. We had a wood-burning stove in my house growing up. It got cold. But it always got warm again," she said.

The bracing cold will continue for the rest of the week, even as temperatures creep up, forecasters said. An inch or two of snow was expected overnight, and forecasters said today's low would reach 17 degrees, or about nine degrees higher than yesterday's coldest -- though wind gusts will make it seem more frigid. The high will be 30, meteorologist Chris Strong said.

"It's going to stay cold for the next week, at least," he said. The average temperature range for this time of year is 28 to 45 degrees, he said.

The 10-degree temperature reading at Reagan Washington National Airport yesterday morning was below anything experienced earlier this winter.

In the District, mental health officials deployed staff to talk to 42 homeless people who refused shelter, trying to get them to go indoors, said Debra Daniels, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Human Services. Officials dispatched nine vans to search for homeless people on the street -- up from six vans Monday. They urged the public to call the hypothermia hotline at 800-535-7252 if they see homeless people in need of shelter.

"We're trying to save lives here," Daniels said.

About three dozen D.C. public schools had heating problems yesterday, said spokesman John C. White. School officials moved students into heated areas of the buildings, White said.

H.D. Woodson Senior High School in Northeast Washington will remain closed all week while crews repair broken water pipes, White said. Students will be shuttled to a nearby school.

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