Sun helps Washington area get on feet after storms, but road clearing criticized

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 12, 2010; A01

The Washington region wobbled to its feet Thursday as mass transit and commerce lurched back to life after a record-breaking blizzard, and officials pleaded for patience from frustrated prisoners of some unplowed residential streets.

Although many roads remained treacherous, snowplows and rising temperatures made pavement visible on major arteries for the first time in days. Some bus service resumed on about four dozen Metro routes and two Circulator routes. Planes began flying out of the area's three airports, and Amtrak said service would be "close to normal" Friday.

The federal government announced that it will reopen Friday with a two-hour delay for its several hundred thousand workers.

Metro restored some aboveground service Thursday and said only nine stations will be closed when trains start up at 5 a.m. Friday.

But officials said they did not expect to know until Friday morning whether the rest will resume in time for the morning commute. About 4,000 homes and businesses remained without power at the end of the day.

Most schools and local governments will be closed Friday. Arlington County was one of the few to announce that its county and court offices will be open, although employees can take unscheduled leave.

More snow is predicted for Monday. But on Thursday, the sun shone brightly, and melting snow dripped onto sidewalks sprinkled with salt. Alexandria authorities warned of falling icicles.

The wet snow caused more roof collapses, but no injuries were reported. Canopies that shelter boats at an Anacostia yacht club collapsed, damaging 11 of them.

Around Frederick, police and rescue workers spent the day trying to reach vehicles that skidded into snowbanks Wednesday. Some motorists had abandoned their cars. Some spent the night inside. At one point, rescue workers were trying to get to 39 cars.

Late Thursday night, rescuers were still trying to reach the last of those vehicles, but they thought that it was empty. Then it was on to the next job: calls of six additional cars stranded behind Mount St. Mary's College in the northern part of the county.

Mail is delivered

In many neighborhoods, a sense of purpose prevailed as residents ventured outside to shovel out their buried cars and resume a semblance of a normal life. Post offices were open and mail was delivered on passable streets; supermarkets started to replenish shelves; and some stores were back in business.

"On the first day, it was fun to drink and play board games with friends," Tiffany Williams, a social worker, said as she did office work on her laptop at an Adams Morgan coffeehouse. "But after that, you really want to get back to your life."

Yet there were signs of ill humor bred by the two storms, which set seasonal snowfall records throughout the region, with 55.9 inches at Reagan National Airport, 72.8 inches at Dulles International Airport and 79.9 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.

Susan Hubbard, spokeswoman for the Prince George's County Department of Public Works and Transportation, said residents in the Camp Springs area threatened three plow drivers. They told drivers that they would "throw them out of their trucks and beat them up" if their streets weren't plowed, she said.

"It's ridiculous," Hubbard said. "Men and women are working as hard as they possibly can."

Keith Compton, Montgomery County's chief of highway services, said workers with more than 1,200 plows and other snow removal equipment continue to clear neighborhood roads.

Workers there got the occasional rude comment, he said. "They drive by, and in a sarcastic way say, 'Nice plow job,' meaning, 'Lousy plow job,' " Compton said.

Officials said they still face a gargantuan task. The District has more than 250 pieces of equipment plowing and treating roads, along with backhoes, front loaders, dump trucks and dumpsters. But in some places, there was simply too much to plow.

"There is too much snow accumulation on some streets for the plows to adequately move the snow. The snow has to be physically removed and hauled away," said Gabe Klein, District Transportation Department director.

For a snowfall of 18 inches, the District aims to clear major roads within 36 hours and residential streets within 60 hours. This time, residents were asked not to report unplowed streets before Friday morning at the earliest.

In Virginia, workers discovered that some streets are too narrow for big plows but that smaller plows aren't powerful enough to handle three feet of piled snow.

"We're having to use front-end loaders on those streets," said Jennifer McCord of the Virginia Department of Transportation. "That makes a significant difference because we have fewer of those and they're slower." She said it would be Sunday before all 9,000 miles of residential streets in Northern Virginia would be plowed.

Hoping to see asphalt

The volume of snow overwhelmed local government preparations. Prince George's nearly ran out of salt because its supplier couldn't make a delivery Wednesday.

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said it will take several days to see pavement and for plows to free people from their neighborhoods. He said efforts were hampered by illegally parked cars, which police would ticket and tow. "I know our citizens are getting very restless, and they are calling everyone they can reach to find out when a plow will get to their street," he said. "We're asking that you please remain patient and we will have plows into all residential areas within the next one to two days."

Firefighters in the region repeated concerns about access to hydrants. To help District residents dig out hydrants near their homes, the group We Love DC posted a map showing where hydrants are located. The Montgomery Fire and Rescue Service also posted hydrant locations.

Metro was working to open aboveground rail stations as quickly as possible, said spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. At 5 a.m., the Red Line will operate between the Medical Center and Glenmont stations. The Grosvenor-Strathmore, White Flint, Twinbrook, Rockville and Shady Grove Metrorail stations will remain closed.

The Orange Line will operate between the New Carrollton and Ballston stations. The East Falls Church, West Falls Church-VT/UVA, Dunn Loring-Merrifield and Vienna/Fairfax-GMU Metrorail stations will remain closed.

But all around, there were signs that normality was returning. In Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, coffee shops were filled with telecommuting workers.

Restaurants, wine shops, gyms and bookstores also were bustling. At Kramerbooks & Afterwords, on Connecticut Avenue, employee Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, 36, said the store had been busier than usual.

"They're just sick of being cooped up," he said. "They're looking for something to do."

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