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Snowstorm's intensity has D.C. region hunkering down

After two recent snowstorms closed the federal government and schools across the region, people began digging out. The season's snow tally in D.C. reached 55.6 inches Wednesday -- more than the last record of 54.4 inches, set in 1898-99.

More than 50,000 homes and businesses in the immediate Metro area were without electricity early Saturday. The figure in Northern Virginia was about 33,000 and in the District and Montgomery and Prince George's counties, about 19,000.

On Friday, one island of public life was Verizon Center, where the Washington Capitals extended their winning streak Friday night to 13 games with a victory over the Atlanta Thrashers. An announcement of the Metrorail service changes was made at the game.

The Caps hope to take the ice at Verizon again at noon Sunday. Between those games, the hardwood was to be put down for a pair of basketball games Saturday.

Georgetown vowed that its noon game with No. 2-ranked Villanova, for which 20,000 tickets had been sold, would be played as scheduled.

"We are asking people not to attempt to drive but to take Metro," said Georgetown spokesman Mike "Mex" Carey.

The Washington Wizards are scheduled to take the floor Saturday night against the Atlanta Hawks.

An unscheduled form of public athletic activity took place Friday night in many parts of the area as impromptu snowball fights broke out. The wet snow was easily formed into snowballs to the delight of many.

'The city was empty'

The region's largest employer, the federal government, allowed workers to take unscheduled leave Friday but opened its doors to anyone who chose to work. But those who did were sent home early.

"My goal was to have the city essentially evacuated by 2 p.m., and I was watching carefully and I walked home at 3:30 p.m. to verify for myself, and basically the city was empty," said John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management.

Berry, who decides when to open or close D.C. area federal offices, said he hoped to reach a conclusion before Sunday's Super Bowl kickoff about whether to open offices.

Officials estimate that closing Washington area federal offices costs taxpayers $100 million in lost operation and opportunity costs, part of the reason Berry decided to keep federal offices open Friday with the unscheduled leave policy and an early dismissal.

"I'm sure there would have been taxpayers concerned that we closed offices when there wasn't any snow on the ground," he said. "That said, we wanted to ensure the safety of our employees."

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