washingtonpost.com
Fast-moving storms in D.C. area leave mess in their wake

By Phillip Lucas and Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2010; B01

Lestina Kennedy was standing outside her home in the Oxon Hill area, "enjoying the cool rain" that came with Thursday's thunderstorm. Then the mood changed.

"The whole area became grayish, very grayish, and with a gust of wind I had never seen before," Kennedy said. She ran back inside just as she heard a fierce wind and the sound of tree branches cracking.

She emerged to find two massive branches in her front yard that had taken down power lines and crushed a fence and another tree during fast-moving thunderstorms that pummeled the Washington region, knocking out electricity to more than 100,000 customers and sentencing commuters to an excruciatingly slow drive home.

"You see how the tree is charred. Lightning hit it twice," said Kennedy, 45, whose husband, grandmother and four children were holed up inside the Comanche Drive house when the branches fell. "I believe that God has saved us for real."

Parts of Prince George's County and Alexandria were particularly hard hit. Thursday night, Alexandria officials declared a local emergency to boost coordination with state resources and enable the city to take "necessary actions" to respond to the storms. In Prince George's, power outages left many traffic signals dark, including at major intersections such as Route 4 and the Suitland Parkway.

At 9 p.m., about 96,000 customers in the Washington region remained without power. The outage affected about 50,000 Dominion Power customers in Northern Virginia and about 46,000 Pepco customers, including about 39,000 in Prince George's, 4,200 in Montgomery County and 2,800 in the District.

In Alexandria, southbound lanes of the George Washington Parkway were closed from near Reagan National Airport to the Old Town area from 4 to 7:15 p.m. after several large trees toppled onto the road near Daingerfield Island. A bus and cars collided on the parkway south of the airport, but U.S. Park Police Sgt. David Schlosser said it wasn't clear whether a tree fell on the vehicles or if the trees fell and the vehicles hit them.

Roads in the Del Ray neighborhood were covered with branches, power lines and debris. Officials said in a news release Thursday night that their first priority is to clear the streets, and they urged residents to stay in their homes and off of the road.

In the District, the D.C. Fire and EMS Department reported downed trees at MacArthur Boulevard and Loughboro Road NW and on Alabama Avenue SE.

At Ottawa Street and Comanche Drive in the Oxon Hill area, Joseph Fort, 73, watched the storm topple a large tree onto a fence in his front yard; another branch was blocking his back door.

"It was pretty rough," said Fort, who has lived in the area for more than 25 years. "I knew there was supposed to be a storm, but I've never seen a storm like that around here."

A Prince George's police spokesman said there were no confirmed reports of storm-related injuries or deaths in the county.

In Arlington County, winds up to 70 mph were recorded. Diana Sun, a county spokeswoman, said as many as 50 trees may have fallen in the Fairlington area. No injuries had been reported, she said.

In the Del Ray area of Alexandria, Hector Reyes and his 8-year-old daughter, Sabrina, were in their car, about to pull out of their driveway, when they decided to go back inside to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to snack on during the drive.

That decision, Reyes said, may have saved their lives.

"Just as I ran into the house, a big, strong wind came up, and a huge tree branch fell right in front of my car," he said -- at the spot where it would have been if he'd pulled out of the driveway.

"My daughter was scared," he said. "Really scared."

Trees split and came crashing down in his front and back yards, and one fell onto his neighbor's house. The high winds pushed green plastic city trash cans down the street and left electric cables dangling around his house.

Once Reyes calmed his daughter and checked on his neighbors, he turned his attention to his dog, Molly.

"She's a Katrina dog," he said. "Every time there's a strong wind or a storm, she gets all crazy."

Staff writers Paul Duggan, Annie Gowen, Rick Rojas, Brigid Schulte and Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.

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