Some of snow storm's moments were frozen in time

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 8, 2010; A01

The agony and the ecstasy of life after the great snowstorm was captured over the weekend in a frozen cluster of homes in the 13700 block of Drake Drive in Montgomery County.

That's where the power and heat cut off shortly after midnight on Saturday. It's where Kelvin Hart; his pregnant wife, Carol; and their twin daughters put on four layers of clothing and bundled together to sleep through Saturday night. And it's where Joan Herschler sat in her black Porsche Carrera on Sunday with the engine running to stay warm.

"I've been burning all the wood I had cut," said Hart, 40, who wore thermal underwear, two undershirts, two fleece shirts, a black jacket and a coat atop that. "I only have a couple of logs left. We're huddling tight."

Hart considered making a run to Richard Montgomery High School, where the county was operating a shelter for residents who lost power. The school, where 13 people slept Saturday night, was one of four shelters and warming centers in Prince William, Fairfax and Montgomery counties.

More than 200,000 homes and businesses lost power across the region after heavy snow brought down trees and power lines just as temperatures dipped into the teens on Saturday into Sunday. As of Sunday night, 100,000 customers still did not have electricity.

"I'm getting a lot of requests from citizens wanting to come to the shelter," said John Soifer, who oversaw the operation in the school gymnasium at Richard Montgomery.

Hart nixed going to the shelter for two reasons. First, the unplowed snow was at least knee deep on Drake Drive. Even his four-wheel-drive Jeep and his Ford F-10 truck couldn't make it out.

Second, he was surrounded by elderly neighbors who counted on younger men like him to check in on them.

"A lot of the guys don't want to leave because the elderly are leaning on us to help them, too," Hart said. "If we go, who will look out for them?"

Which is part of the ecstasy of the storm: neighbor helping neighbor.

When her world went black, Herschler didn't know what to do. She huddled in bed Saturday night with one of her cats buried deep under the comforter.

Raju Pillai, 51, a neighbor from across the street, gave Herschler some advice: Boil two pots of water to get some steam going and raise the humidity in the kitchen.

But Hart, Herschler and Pillai also were boiling mad. Montgomery snow removers plowed a cul-de-sac nearby but not their street, leaving them stranded.

"When I talked to the county, I was told a tentative day for them to move the snow was Tuesday," Pillai said. "I hope that was a mistake and they come before then."

The residents of Drake Drive weren't the only Marylanders who struggled to stay warm. In the Old Farm neighborhood off Montrose Road in North Bethesda, some families took refuge in a Marriott hotel near the White Flint Metro station.

The 430-room hotel was sold out for the weekend as early as Saturday. A reservation agent said there were no rooms available within 14 miles.

Janice Schneider had no intention of paying for a room. A New Jersey native and a veteran of several blizzards, Schneider felt hotels were for the faint of heart. The Schneiders cooked an Indian curry on their gas stove, lit candles and burned firewood in the family room.

"We were prepared," she said. The family collected the major food groups. "Chocolate. Marshmallow. Graham crackers," Schneider said. "It's no big deal. There's enough food, enough warmth."

In Arlington County, Alison Davis-Holland saw a bright blast of pink light Saturday evening when a tree broke outside her home and tore down power lines, leaving the historic Maywood neighborhood without electricity.

Davis-Holland, her husband and their two children lit 20 candles in the living room and hunkered down. By morning, when the rest of the neighborhood's power had been restored, theirs had not.

"Besides the inconvenience of the heat going off, it was all actually quite beautiful," Davis-Holland said, describing Maywood's candlelit, snowy houses. The cold made it difficult to stay home, but their neighbors warmed them. "We must have had a dozen offers to have us over for today and tonight. We're having a family slumber party at someone else's house."

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