Heavy Rain Forces Evacuations, Causes Floods Across Area

Despite Tropical Storm Hanna's downpour, locals and tourists tried to go about their day in Washington, D.C. The situation was worse in the Huntington area of Fairfax County, where 114 homes were evacuated because of flooding. Video by Pierre Kattar/washingtonpost.com
By Nick Miroff, Philip Rucker and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 7, 2008

The first tropical storm to hit the Washington area this season left the region windblown and thoroughly soaked yesterday, causing one fatal car accident, flooding dozens of roads and turning quiet suburban creeks into fast-rising, muddy rivers.

Tropical Storm Hanna finally departed yesterday evening, heading off to Long Island, N.Y., and points to the northeast after dropping more than seven inches of rain in some parts of the area.

The most affected spots in this area seemed to be in Northern Virginia, including one Fairfax County neighborhood that was forced to evacuate. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said that Prince William County -- where Neabsco Creek swelled up and swallowed Route 1 -- was the hardest-hit county in his state.

Sunny skies were predicted to return today and tomorrow as forecasters turned their attention to far-off Hurricane Ike, which grew to Category 4 strength yesterday as it churned on an uncertain path, threatening millions. Latest forecasts suggested that it would skirt the southern tip of Florida, move westward across Cuba and head northwest into the Gulf of Mexico.

Officials said that Hanna's effects could linger as crews remove fallen trees and restore power to almost 10,000 metropolitan area customers who lacked it last night. The figure had been much higher earlier in the day.

At the end of the day, officials said Hanna lacked the tropical wallop they had feared. Tropical storm force winds appeared not to reach the immediate Washington area. The storm was less like Hurricane Isabel, which brought heavy winds and wide-scale flooding in 2003, and more like a large thunderstorm system. At Reagan National Airport, the peak wind was 33 mph, six miles an hour less than the minimum for a tropical storm.

But, in many places across the area, the storm was plenty.

"There's a river now that flows through my back yard, and it got up to within three feet from my house," said Marjorie Knowles, whose Vienna home was threatened by an overflowing drainage ditch. "I mean, I'm not big on prayer, but I'm praying."

One of the storm's biggest impacts was in the Huntington neighborhood of Fairfax County, where about 50 people were evacuated from their homes as Cameron Run rose and flooded streets. The water began receding about 6 p.m., and some homeowners were allowed to return by about 8 p.m., but officials were going house-to-house to look for structural damage or backed-up sewage.

County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said that the residents -- whose neighborhood was flooded by a similar storm in 2006 -- were not being allowed to return until the inspections were complete.

Hanna made landfall near the North Carolina-South Carolina border about 3:15 a.m. yesterday, dropping five inches of rain in some places and causing minor damage. The storm had spent days drifting slowly across the Atlantic Ocean, but once over land it moved with purpose: By 6 a.m., it was dumping rain on southern Virginia.

By midday, it was raining more than an inch an hour in some parts of the Washington region. Cars hydroplaned on slick roads, hitting utility poles or each other.

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