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For D.C. area commuters stuck in snow, 'it just felt hopeless'

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Dozens of Washington residents gathered in Dupont Circle on Wednesday evening for a snowball fight during the biggest snowstorm of the winter.

In the District, more than 40 accidents tied up traffic on thoroughfares such as 16th Street and Connecticut and Georgia avenues. At 6:30 p.m., at Connecticut Avenue and Albemarle Street NW, a Metrobus slid into a curb and blocked three lanes of traffic.

Within a half-hour, three more buses and several cars got stuck trying to maneuver around the first bus. Traffic on the avenue didn't recover for hours.

In all, 70 Metrobuses stalled in the snow, officials said.

Suitland Parkway, which carries thousands of commuters between the District and Prince George's County, was shut down after 5 p.m. because the snow made it impassable, officials said. They said President Obama's return from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House during that hour had no impact on the traffic; it took the presidential motorcade 63 minutes to return from Andrews, a trip that had taken 24 minutes that morning.

An hour-long commute became an eight-hour ordeal for Alan Creamer, 44, a biologist for the federal government. The 4:30 p.m. Martz bus to his home in North Beach was blocked from the Suitland Parkway and got stuck on Interstate 295.

"At the beginning, people had a sense of adventure, everyone was talking," Creamer said. His seatmate offered crackers to fellow passengers. But after a few hours, people lost their patience. "There was someone yelling, 'We shouldn't go this way!' " he said. "Someone else yelled, 'I want to get off!' " The driver let a few passengers out at the Anacostia Metro station.

On nearly every major road, and especially in hilly stretches, vehicles slipped, spun and stalled. Frustrated, cold and running out of gas, hundreds of motorists left their vehicles, turning major roads into slalom courses.

In Northern Virginia, nearly 450 vehicles were disabled, and 100 others were abandoned on the GW Parkway, officials said.

"I understand that people were frustrated," said Virginia State Police Lt. James DeFord, "that they were running out of gas and were worried about freezing. But they really contributed to the problem by leaving their vehicles in the road. A lot of our police cars have push bumpers, so if people had stayed with their cars, we could have given them a shove and got them going."

Jon Redman, who owns the Redman Fleet Services towing service in Lorton, said it was difficult for his crews to keep up with demand. "You would get a call for a tow truck at a location, but when we got there it was five, eight, 10 cars," he said. "At one spot, there were 17 vehicles waiting to be towed."

Tammie Grice, an executive assistant at Marriott who commutes to Gaithersburg from Fort Washington, wanted to stay with her car. By midnight, she had been stuck in traffic for more than nine hours, and she was out of gas.

Stranded in the left lane of the GW Parkway, with a line of cars behind her and no help in sight, she decided to walk. She slipped off her high heels, put on some flats and hiked to a nearby service station, where she spent the night with six other stranded drivers, sleeping in wooden chairs until her son came to pick her up at 6 a.m.

"I wasn't scared or worried, to tell you the truth. I was just cold," she said.

shaverk@washpost.com davenportc@washpost.com schwartzman@washpost.com


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