Region begins to dig out after record storm

The storm that pummeled the Washington area Dec. 19 is the largest one-day snow in more than 70 years. As much as two feet of snow buried some parts of the region.
By Matt Zapotosky, Carol Morello and Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 20, 2009; 7:59 AM

Airport runways began to re-open. Major thoroughfares began to look like roads again. And Metro officials pondered restoring bus and train service Sunday morning as the Washington region began to dig out from the record-breaking storm that paralyzed the area a day earlier.

At Baltimore Washington International Airport, authorities opened a second runway Sunday morning and proudly proclaimed that two flights had landed -- a redeye from Los Angeles and a charter flight carrying the Chicago Bears. Dulles International Airport opened one runway, too, and officials said they hoped to have one open at Reagan by 10 a.m.

Officials said that 100 percent of major roadways in the District were "passable," but cautioned drivers to take it slow. Leaders throughout the region cautioned that it would take time before residential streets could be cleared to allow traffic through. Some neighborhoods were still so bad that plows were getting stuck when they tried to tackle the snow there, said District Department of Transportation Spokeswoman Karyn Le Blanc.

Metro train service remained limited to underground stations Sunday morning, and bus service has not restarted after it was suspended Saturday. Officials said they would re-evaluate the situation throughout the morning. Le Blanc said officials hoped DDOT's popular Circulator could begin operating again by noon.

Already, officials have begun preparing for the work week.

"But we have more work to do without a doubt," Le Blanc said. "We'll be ready for rush hour, but crews will still be out on Monday as well."

Saturday's storm broke all records for a December snowfall and buried the Washington area, forcing authorities to suspend public transportation, declare a state of emergency and plead with residents to stay home.

Hundreds of airline flights were canceled, Metro stopped running trains to aboveground stations and shopping malls closed early because few customers could navigate treacherous roads to get there on the last weekend before Christmas.

At least one school system, Loudoun County, announced that schools will not reopen until Jan. 4, after the winter break that was to begin Wednesday. Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William, Prince George's and Montgomery county schools canceled activities and closed buildings for the weekend. District schools are already on break.

Delays are widespread. The Baltimore Ravens' home game Sunday against the Chicago Bears was moved from 1 to 4:15 p.m. to give workers more time to clear snow before fans tried to make their way to M&T Bank Stadium. The Washington Redskins announced that they are bringing in 1,200 workers to remove an estimated 25 million pounds of snow from FedEx Field and its parking lots before Monday night's game.

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said residential streets will not be plowed before Monday. District officials said 80 plows dedicated to neighborhood roads have already made one sweep and will return once the snow stops.

Federal officials, like their counterparts at most county and municipal offices, expect to decide during early conference calls Monday whether to open government offices or grant liberal leave to employees.

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