By Matt Zapotosky, Jonathan F. Mummolo and Brigid schulte
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 6, 2008 7:19 PM
Tropical Storm Hanna eased its way out of the Washington region early this evening, leaving behind closed roads, spot flooding and at least one fatality, but, despite rains that measured more than six and seven inches in spots, far less destruction than had been feared.
The damage appears worst in Northern Virginia, where Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said Prince William was the hardest-hit county in the state. Flooding in central and southern Fairfax County prompted a couple of small scale evacuations, authoritities said.
Trees fell throughout the area, and in one Woodbridge neighborhood a tree fell on a single family home, but no injuries were reported. Rocio Chavaria, 18, was watching TV in the living room with her family when they heard a loud cracking sound. A thick branch broke through the ceiling of the kitchen.
"Water was coming in and I said 'Oh Lord'," she said. "I'm upset by the damage, but we're relieved that everybody's fine and no one got hurt."
By 5 p.m., the wind and rain were all but gone from the area. However, dark clouds still covered the skies as Hanna headed across the Delaware Bay into southern New Jersey. Maryland authorities downgraded wind restrictions on the Bay Bridge to warnings, advising vehicles vulnerable to high winds (such as vehicles with roof mount racks containing cargo) to use caution when crossing.
Overall, "things are winding down," said Josh Newhard, a meteorologist at the Accuweather forecast service.
Pepco reported about 10,000 customers without power early this evening in the District and Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Dominion Power said about 9,000 Northern Virginia homes were without service.
Since Hanna's rain bands first began hitting the region this morning, more than six inches of rain have fallen in Leesburg, and 4.8 inches at Dulles International Airport, where winds gusted to 40 miles per hour. Josh Newhard, a meteorologist at the AccuWeather forecast service, said the storm had been worst to the west and northwest of the District.
As Hanna departed, it was apparent that the storm had not caused widespread damage. Though it met the meteorological standards for tropical storms, in its effects, it was essentially reminiscent of one of the area's more powerful thunderstorms.
At St. Michaels on the Chesapeake Bay late this afternoon, wind gusts and downpours were replaced by a steady mist. Ducks swam up to the front porch of St. Michael's Crab and Steak House, helped along by the large puddle that had developed just outside the restaurant.
Owner Eric S. Rosen had closed the crab house during the day because of Hanna's expected impact, opened up at 4 p.m. for a scheduled party. Still, he was concerned about the storm's aftermath, with high tides expected around 10 p.m. that might put water into the restaurant.
Standing outside the restaurant on his boat, the Chesapeake, Chris F. Spurry, 60, of St. Michaels, echoed Rosen's thought.
"The thing that gets the drama and attention is the high winds," he said. "But actually in terms of inconvenience and damage, the high tide can be serious."
In Northern Virginia, where the rain appeared to be heavier , the situation created more concern.
"We have a lot of flooding," said police dispatcher Maggie Reese in Prince William County. "The roads are bad, and numerous roads are impassable. Tell people to stay in."
In a conference call at mid-afternoon, Kaine (D) said the state's most significant flooding was in Prince William, where Hanna appears to have poured the most rain. In one of the worst spots, Neabsco Creek rose high enough to cover Route 1 in about five feet of water near the intersection with Blackburn Road.
"It seems like some of the rain is very, very heavy as the storm is exiting Virginia," Kaine said.
Residents of about two-dozen houses in the Huntington area of Fairfax County were evacuated early Saturday afternoon county officials said, as the rain-swelled Cameron Run overran its banks and swamped nearby streets. The same neighborhood suffered severe flooding in June 2006 after heavy rains. Evacuees milled in and out of the Huntington Community Center throughout the afternoon.
But by 6 p.m., county officials determined that the flood waters had begun to recede. A multi-agency team, with officials from public works, the health, police and fire departments, began going house to house making inspections of damage and any possible health threat from sewage backup or danger from structural damage. Once the assessments are complete and no danger is found, residents will be allowed to return home.
"At this point, we just don't know when that will be," said Merni Fitzgerald, Fairfax County spokesperson.
Two buses sat idling outside the community center most of the afternoon to take any residents to another county shelter at the Mt. Vernon Recreation Center. The shelter was prepared to take 50 evacuees, but by later afternoon only a handful of people had chosen to come.
Around 18 homes on Lake Point Drive in the Burke area were also evacuated as a precautionary measure yesterday, Fitzgerald said, as officials kept an eye on water levels in Royal Lake, a flood control facility created by Pohick Creek Dam. The earthen dam, which no longer meets federal safety or design standards, is being rebuilt. Spillways that usually handle stormwater are not operative, but there is no actual flooding, Fitzgerald said.
State officials will conduct damage assessments over the next 24 hours. The governor said he expects some roads that have been closed due to high water may need repairs.
"It's a little too early to tell," Kaine said.
Despite heavy rainfall and flooding, Prince William officials said there were no injuries or power outages. "In two cases, people had to abandon their cars," said spokesperson Elizabeth Bahrens. But the two individuals did not need to be rescued. "We don't have people that are stranded and we have no immediate danger issues."
The storm claimed its first fatality in the Washington region just after noon when a southbound vehicle on Interstate 95 in the Calverton area of Prince George's County slid off the roadway and crashed into the highway median. A man driving the car died, but an infant survived the accident near the intersection of Powder Mill Road, Maryland State Police Sgt. J. Leichtman said.
"People are driving too fast for conditions," Leichtman said. "They need to slow down."
Prince George's County reported three dozen accidents with injuries, most of them on the county's major highways. Loudoun County reported nine. Officials across the region reported pooled water on roadways and dangerous driving conditions, particularly at high speeds.
Storm drains were overwhelmed in Prince William County, causing widespread flooding and road closures along several major arteries including Dale Boulevard, Route 1 and Nokesville Road.
In Montgomery County, Sligo Creek Parkway and Beach Drive were closed and au thorities closed access to parks along the river.
In the District, Rock Creek and its tributaries were brimming with water. Dalecarlia Parkway in Northwest D.C. was covered in about two feet of standing water, forcing some motorists to do a U-turn and find another way.
And in Virginia, residents and public safety officials reported flooded yards in Vienna, standing water on Route 123 and flooding on roadways near Accotink Creek in Fairfax County. Downed trees were also reported at Lorton and Furnace roads.
Still, residents across the region went about their business in spite of the storm -- and in some cases, because of it. Shoppers waited in 12-deep lines with loaded grocery carts at the Whole Foods in Silver Spring; the story was similar at the Safeway in McLean and other stores across the region.
Along the District's southwest waterfront a steady stream of customers approached the installations of seafood vendors even as the Potomac's water churned.
"I come here once or twice a month," Neta Williams, 28, after buying two pounds of shrimp. She said she was unconcerned about the weather. "I think it's going to blow over."
The National Weather Service had predicted that Hanna could bring as much as eight inches of rain to the region, and some spots came remarkably close.
Many rain gauges in the Northern Virginia area gave readings of six and seven inches.
Hanna made landfall around 3:15 a.m. near the North Carolina-South Carolina border, downing trees, cutting power and swelling the surf along the region's coastline. By 6 a.m., the fast-moving storm was already dumping rain on southern Virginia, with emergency officials braced for flooding, wind damage and possible tornadoes.
Hanna lashed the Carolinas with winds about 50 mph and heavy rains as it came ashore overnight, but it moved quickly enough that it caused little damage beyond isolated flooding and power outages.
"Right now we're just keeping an eye on things and making sure we stay ahead of the eight-ball," said Moore County, N.C., public safety director Carlton Cole. "It's nowhere near as bad as it could have been."
In preparing for the storm, the American Red Cross said it had 2,300 volunteers mobilized in Virginia, along with 9,600 cots and blankets, and similar preparations have been made in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, said Armond Mascelli, Red Cross vice president of disaster operations.
Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore were also prepared for the brunt of the storm. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) issued an expanded emergency declaration yesterday covering the entire state.
In Richmond, NASCAR lovers had hoped tonight's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 would roar on as planned, but it and another race Friday were postponed. Some fans, sensing the coming torrent, had rushed to unload tickets below face value.
Professional storm watchers tried to put Hanna in historical perspective.
"It's definitely not nice weather, but it shouldn't be compared to the weather we had with Hurricane Isabel," said Mark Hoekzema, chief meteorologist at WeatherBug. The 2003 storm battered parts of the region, closed the federal government, schools and business, and left more than 1 million residents without power.
Still, even more modest storms, such as Gaston a year later, as well as Hanna, can offer opportunities for bad decisions.
"Most deaths from these types of storms come from flooding, from people driving into floodwaters or falling into rivers . . . and just being careless and not respecting the power of moving water," Hoekzema said. People should "stay away from streams that are running very fast. Use common sense. That's just to stay inside when it's raining really hard. That would go a long way."
Staff writers Lena H. Sun, Nikita Stewart, Martin Weil, staff researcher Meg Smith and the Associated Press contributed to this report.