By Michael E. Ruane and Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 15, 2007
The Washington region struggled to recover yesterday from the deadly northeaster that knocked out power to tens of thousands, closed schools and airports, and clogged roads with snow, sleet, ice and slush.
The storm left houses unheated in frigid temperatures, and high winds hampered cleanup efforts and blew down a portion of a tree that killed a Loudoun County teenager. In Crofton, a 12-year-old boy was critically injured when his sled veered onto a roadway and was struck by a pickup truck, officials said.
In Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, where the storm produced severe icing, about 77,000 households were without power last night, and officials opened numerous emergency shelters.
As temperatures plummeted into the teens and 20s, some slushy roads refroze and electrical utilities worried that the wind could cause more damage to weakened trees and power lines.
Linda Foy, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas and Electric, said that as workers restored power to tens of thousands of customers yesterday, others lost power. Late yesterday, she struck an optimistic note, saying that the utility's number of outages had dropped to about 71,000 from the day's high of about 90,000.
"We should really see those numbers go down significantly" today as crews from other states help out, she said. She said power for most of the company's customers is expected to be restored by tonight, though a relative few might take until tomorrow night.
The snow and ice prompted schools in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford counties, along with Manassas city schools, to cancel classes today. Alexandria schools are scheduled to open two hours late. In Maryland, classes were also called off for today in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. The District's schools also will be closed.
The National Weather Service predicted dry but cold weather in the Washington area through tomorrow, with highs in the upper 20s to lower 30s. Winds today are expected to range from 10 to 15 mph, with gusts of up to 25 mph, said meteorologist Brian Lasorsa.
In Loudoun, yesterday's winds were fierce enough to cause the death of 15-year-old Jennifer Zilke, a Loudoun Valley High School student from Bluemont. She was killed about 3 p.m. as she strolled with her father and her 9-year-old sister in the family's front yard and a gust ripped the top off an old, dead tree, authorities said.
There was a crack, and then a large portion of the tree came crashing down, crushing the girl, said Loudoun sheriff's spokesman Kraig Troxell.
Zilke was unconscious when paramedics arrived but was breathing, Troxell said. She was taken to Inova Loudoun Hospital in Leesburg, where she was pronounced dead.
Few details were available about the 12-year-old sledding victim in Anne Arundel. He was identified as Colin Davis, and he was taken to Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
The storm moved north from the Washington area, blasting Philadelphia and New York with sleet and ice and parts of New England with heavy snow.
Things could have been worse, weather forecasters said.
The regionwide ice storm meteorologists had feared was contained mostly east of the District, with the city and areas to the west mainly getting sleet and snow, the National Weather Service said.
"If it hadn't been sleet, you wouldn't have made it to work," said senior meteorologist Tom Kine of AccuWeather. "Had it been [all] snow, you would have had over a foot."
East of the city, the weather service said, a thicker layer of warm air allowed the storm's precipitation to fall as freezing rain, which iced trees and branches that took down power lines. Some areas got between a quarter-inch and a half-inch of ice, officials said.
Falling trees took out supply lines to three Pepco substations, accounting for the power outages in Prince George's, said Bob Dobkin, a Pepco spokesman.
Streets were littered with limbs, and people fled darkened, chilly homes in search of hot beverages and warm lodgings.
Thousands of air travelers faced delays and cancellations as airports and airlines battled to recover from the storm. Reagan National and Dulles International airports were closed for much of the morning as crews removed snow and ice from runways, officials said.
National opened its main runway at 10:40 a.m. The first runway at Dulles opened at 12:40 p.m., forcing carriers to cancel scores of flights into the late afternoon, officials said.
Airlines were expected to resume normal operations this morning, but they urged customers to call customer service lines or check the carriers' Web sites.
The treacherous road conditions had direct consequences for about 60 Metrobuses that got stuck in the early morning on unplowed streets in the city and suburbs.
Farbstein, the Metro spokeswoman, said the combination of ice and snow made it especially difficult for the buses to get traction. In most cases, Metrobus supervisors were able to dislodge the buses with sand and shovels before 9 a.m. By midafternoon, about 75 percent of the neighborhoods were cleared enough for bus routes to operate normally, Farbstein said.
Virginia, which had declared a statewide emergency in anticipation of the storm, suffered relatively moderate power outages and highway problems. The main roads in Northern Virginia were cleared early, and sunshine by early afternoon kept incidents to a minimum, police said.
In the Burke area, a 45-year-old man fell through the ice on Lake Braddock when he tried to rescue his dog, which had fallen in, Fairfax fire spokeswoman Renee Stilwell said. But man and dog were rescued by friends, and both were back on land when rescuers arrived.
In Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Charles counties, where ice formed, nearly 120,000 customers lost power yesterday. In Anne Arundel, outages were so extensive that County Executive John R. Leopold (R) activated the emergency center at 1 p.m. Earlier in the day, when more than 115,000 customers in Maryland were without power, emergency shelters started opening in the hardest-hit counties, and many residents were scrambling to find hotel rooms.
As of 5 p.m. yesterday, about 64,000 customers in Anne Arundel and nearly 40,000 in Prince George's were without power. By 10:30 p.m., the number of outages in Anne Arundel had dropped to about 54,000 and about 23,000 in Prince George's, according to BGE and Pepco.
"The latest reports are it could be at least two or three days in some instances" until power is restored to some houses and businesses, Leopold said.
Mike Maxwell, vice president for emergency preparedness at Pepco, said the utility expected to have power restored to most customers by late yesterday, but some wouldn't have it back until today.
Hotels in Prince George's quickly filled with residents fleeing powerless homes. At the Comfort Inn in Bowie, all 240 rooms were booked by 4 p.m., but the phone kept ringing. "You hear these phones?" asked front desk operator Donna Lions. "They just keep going. I want to scream."
By 5 p.m., a half-dozen Anne Arundel residents had checked into an emergency center at Annapolis High School. Warming stations were set up at seven Prince George's firehouses. Charles opened an overnight shelter at Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf.
Sara King, a 54-year-old Edgewater resident, moved into the Annapolis High shelter yesterday afternoon with her 84-year-old mother. "I told her when the house got to 60 degrees we would leave. I didn't want her to get a chill," she said.
The storm was the first weather challenge for the District's new mayor, Adrian M. Fenty (D).
Some in the city said he had done a good job having the streets cleared. Others said he hadn't.
Arthur Peterson, 36, a porter from the Trinidad section, said his neighborhood was plowed. "They did a good job," he said. "It took them time to get there, but, yeah, they did."
Sheila Iverson, a lawyer from Mount Rainier, was unimpressed with the snow removal as she prepared to negotiate a deep slush puddle at 15th and L streets NW.
"Look at these corners," she said, indicating the slush. "I'm having a hard time. I didn't wear my Timberlands. . . . It's a major thoroughfare. . . . They should have hit this area first. . . . Mayor Fenty should have known better. . . . They knew it was coming."
At a news briefing yesterday, Fenty said that city crews would work until the streets were cleared to residents' satisfaction and asked his acting director of the Department of Transportation, Emeka Moneme, to focus on residential streets yesterday afternoon.
"Our job is to make sure the streets are safe and passable, and I think we've achieved that quite well," Moneme said.