Storms flood parts of Washington region, stranding motorists

The heavy rain in the metro region wednesday had local residents heading out to pick up sandbags to ward off potential flooding as another round of inclement weather bears down on the region.
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 19, 2010

After a summer of steamy high temperatures and four high-voltage storms in less than a month that claimed four lives and left destruction behind, area residents had to endure a midweek storm that brought many a double dose of heavy rain at the worst possible time -- just as drivers were slogging to work in the morning and then again as they headed home at night.

"It was a bad, bad morning," said Jennifer Onaitis Legler, a 58-year-old Great Falls resident who slip-slided to work at the Department of Veterans Affairs in the District through three flooded roads. "Chain Bridge was like a waterfall."

Residents around the region who bailed out their basements from last week's heavy rain were scrambling for the buckets again; the District government continued to hand out sandbags. Morning flash flooding around Rock Creek Park and elsewhere left more than 20 motorists stranded.

Water from two streams that crested their banks on the University of Maryland's College Park campus flooded several older buildings and closed Paint Branch Drive for about 1 1/2 hours Wednesday morning, said Dave Cosner, assistant to the director of operations and maintenance.

Hardest hit were the math building and a couple of other older buildings with poor drainage around their foundations, he said. Damage appeared to be limited to soaked carpets and dry wall. Workers were using pumps and high-pressure vacuum systems Wednesday afternoon to dry them out, he said.

Cosner said the university received four inches of rain in a few hours.

"That sort of downpour will overwhelm any kind of storm drainage system," Cosner said.

The rain calmed down Wednesday night, though it was expected to continue through the night in most areas, said National Weather Service spokeswoman Jackie Hale. The showers were moving from the southwestern tip of Virginia up through the Washington area.

The forecast for Thursday was cloudy, with a chance of light showers in the morning and sunshine later in the day, with highs in the upper 80s.

But Hale added that thunderstorms could return over the weekend.

D.C. fire and rescue spokesman Pete Piringer said fire officials called in additional swift-boat rescue personnel during the day, after emergency responders spent much of the morning rush hour rescuing about 20 people stranded in cars at a half-dozen locations in the District. Many of them were mired in spots in Rock Creek Park that routinely flood, such as the 4400 block of Broad Branch Road NW near Brandywine Street. There were no serious injuries, Piringer said.

Last Thursday, a motorist had to abandon his minivan in the same area after rising water began bearing down on him.

Power companies reported scattered outages in the morning. Shortly before 10 p.m., the numbers had shrunk to about 900 in Maryland and the District, according to Pepco, and 60 in Northern Virginia, according to Dominion Virginia Power.

Staff writers Hamil R. Harris, Phillip Lucas, Rick Rojas and Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.

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