Storms Cut Power to Thousands

By Paul Schwartzman and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wind, rain and fist-size chunks of hail pounded the Washington region yesterday as severe thunderstorms rolled through, knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes and injuring a group of children visiting the Mall.

Trees fell on streets, highways and railroad tracks, temperatures plunged nearly 20 degrees in 60 minutes in places, and in at least one spot almost an inch and a half of rain fell in an hour.

Over an area stretching from Loudoun County to the Maryland Eastern Shore, more than 150,000 homes and businesses lost power for at least part of the day, according to utility company figures.

Hailstones, signs of powerful updrafts, were reported in sizes ranging from marbles to baseballs, and Virginia highway authorities sent a snowplow to push them off a section of Route 29 near Ruckersville, northeast of Charlottesville.

In the District, wind gusts upended several large tents on the Mall, briefly trapping seven children and three adults who took shelter there. U.S. Park Police officers had to cut open a tent to free an 11-year-old girl. Members of the group suffered minor injuries and were taken to hospitals, said Alan Etter, a spokesman for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

Terry Crews, a chaperon for a contingent of 600 children visiting from Florida, ran into one of the tents, which were set up for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. It flipped over "like a big umbrella," said Crews, a sergeant in the Alachua County sheriff's department.

One girl suffered a minor head injury, Crews said.

Airplanes headed for New York were held on the ground here for as much as three hours, the Federal Aviation Administration reported.

On a single section of the Capital Beltway, four collisions brought traffic to a standstill between 6:30 and 7 p.m. The crashes occurred on the outer loop in Maryland near the New Hampshire Avenue exit, according to the state police. No serious injuries were reported.

As the storm passed, a tractor-trailer crashed into an unmarked police vehicle on Interstate 270, tying up southbound lanes near the Falls Road exit, state police said. The drivers were not seriously injured.

The day's heaviest barrage of hail apparently occurred in Ruckersville, about 90 miles southwest of Washington.

It "knocked holes as big as baseballs" in the sides of some trailers at a trailer park there, said one witness, Raymond Breeden. "It really came down."

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