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Washington region digs out, but more snow ahead Tuesday

By Ashley Halsey III and Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 8, 2010; A01

In the aftermath of the weekend's massive snowstorm, the region came to grips with the fact that digging out will take days, even as more potentially paralyzing winter weather appeared headed this way by Tuesday.

Snow might be falling again by the time the first snowplow arrives to carve a path into some neighborhoods isolated by about two feet of snow from the storm that ended Saturday. Although the National Weather Service said the next storm had the "potential for more than five inches," other forecasts indicated that as much as a foot might fall.

"Four inches is a pretty good bet, and eight inches or more isn't out of the question," said Dan Stillman, a meteorologist with The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. "It will start out Tuesday afternoon or evening, possibly as a mix of sleet and snow. But after that, it will be mainly snow, with the heaviest overnight into Wednesday morning."

The more immediate threat to the region will come Monday morning. With temperatures in the teens overnight, the slush on cleared roads was expected to harden to ice.

"Any melting we got during the day, with the freezing overnight, is going to make black ice a very serious problem in the morning," said Neil J. Pedersen, head of the Maryland State Highway Administration.

The region's largest employer, the federal government, will be closed Monday. Most regional governments will close or allow workers to take the day off, although the D.C. government said it will be open but one hour later than normal. The Virginia Railway Express canceled service. Every school system in the region said it would shut down. Some supermarkets opened, but people trapped by fallen trees and unplowed side streets could not get to them.

Metro said it would provide only underground rail service and limited bus service.

Dominion Power reported that about 12,000 customers were without electricity in Northern Virginia on Sunday night. Pepco said 46,000 homes and businesses in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and the District were in the dark. About 43,000 were in Montgomery County. Baltimore Gas and Electric had about 5,000 outages in Howard, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

Traffic conditions

With major highways open and, in some cases, clear, plowing crews across the region will begin to work their way into subdivisions and neighborhoods Monday in a rush to beat the next snowfall.

Montgomery crews plan to turn to residential streets Monday in an effort expected to last into Tuesday. Pedersen said that when motorists reach state roads, they shouldn't expect smooth driving.

"Drivers have to expect they are not going to have bare roadways with all lanes open," he said. "It's very slow and tedious work. We have snow piles that are six and eight feet high in the interchanges that have to be pushed back. We hope by Tuesday night we will have opened most of the roadways."

The Virginia Department of Transportation, which clears state and residential roads, said it had begun to tackle the 9,000 miles of subdivision streets.

"Our goal in Northern Virginia is to get to every subdivision street on Tuesday before the next big storm hits," said VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris, adding that the state's meteorologists forecast that Northern Virginia would be "hammered" with six to 12 inches of snow Tuesday. "We are going to be out there all week long, no doubt."

Morris said additional crews and equipment were being brought in from other parts of the state. Pedersen said Maryland crews, which had worked 48 hours straight, would begin to work shorter shifts so they could get some rest before Tuesday's storm.

As the region began to dig out Sunday, roofs collapsed under the weight of snow and paramedics summoned plows to help them reach people who were overcome by carbon monoxide when they brought charcoal grills and generators indoors for heat. Many people huddled in chilly darkness as trees and power lines continued to fall.

In Northern Virginia, Dominion invited customers to call the company's hotline, 888-667-3000, to learn when the lights will return.

Linda Foy, a BGE spokeswoman, said that only isolated outages will remain by Tuesday morning .

Pepco said that it might be the end of the week before service is completely restored in Montgomery but that most customers in the county would be back in service by late Tuesday. The utility said most District and Prince George's customers would have power back by Monday morning, with the rest back on by Wednesday morning.

Pepco spokesman Andre Francis said that crews were "still having some issues getting to those areas where we need to restore power" and that lights had gone out more than once for some customers as falling trees continued to topple lines.

"The roads are treacherous, and safety is one of our number one values, so we won't send our crews into an area where we know there are unsafe conditions," Francis said.

In Bethesda's Woodhaven neighborhood, the Judson family was without power, heat, phones and the Internet for a second day and made plans to visit a friend Sunday evening. "We are going to watch the Super Bowl, and I couldn't care less about the Super Bowl," Rob Judson said.

But at least there would be plenty of warm food in a warm house, enabling the Judsons to thaw out before returning home.

Firefighters busy

In a scene repeated across the region, firefighters were hobbled Saturday night in Great Falls by a 1,500-foot-long driveway covered in nearly 30 inches of snow.

Emergency vehicles became stuck getting down the driveway in the 11200 block of West Montpelier Road about 8 p.m., said Dan Schmidt, a Fairfax County Fire Department spokesman. Firefighters plowed a path up to the two-story home and put out the blaze, but the property is considered a loss.

"When you're pushing 30 inches of snow, that's just incredible," Schmidt said. "Nothing can get back there."

Two men were found dead in a car in Bladensburg on Sunday morning, and authorities there said it was possible they were killed by carbon monoxide. Their names were not released.

Eight people, including four children, were hospitalized Sunday morning after they suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from a charcoal grill that was lighted inside their home, authorities said. Firefighters were dispatched just before 9:30 a.m. to the 13600 block of Cedar Creek Lane in the Silver Spring-Burtonsville area, where several adults and children were sick and an infant was unconscious, said Capt. Oscar Garcia, a spokesman for the Montgomery Fire and Rescue Service.

Medics took four adults and four children to hospitals with injuries that were not life-threatening, Garcia said.

A family of six was hospitalized Saturday night after its members were overcome with carbon monoxide inside their Landover Hills home, authorities said. Firefighters discovered the family had been using a gas generator inside the home, which had lost power because of the snowstorm.

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