Gayle Pierson was thankful for one thing yesterday afternoon: Her exhausting travels were almost over.
Loaded with luggage and shopping bags, Pierson looked gloomily at the overcast sky as she stepped into the long queue of passengers waiting for taxis at National Airport. Ahead of her was the last leg of a trip that began in Oakland, Calif., took her to Indianapolis for Thanksgiving, and ended in Washington for her daughter's 21st birthday.
Along the way, there were delays in Chicago, a turbulent flight in a thunderstorm and a battle through crowds at National. "It was a mess," she said.
Pierson joined tens of thousands of Washington area residents who made their way back to town yesterday by car, train, bus and plane. After a Thanksgiving weekend with friends and relatives, they came back to long lines and frustrating delays that were made worse by the wet, sloppy weather.
By 10:30 p.m., 1.33 inches of rain had fallen in the area yesterday, causing scattered flooding, power outages in Maryland and the District, and fender-benders on slippery roads. Today's forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and highs in the low 60s. No rain is expected.
"We are experiencing delays," was heard over and over again on the loudspeaker inside the District's Union Station, where hundreds of travelers waited for arrivals and departures. The line of passengers for the 3:20 p.m. train to New York snaked through the station as far as the Metro entrance.
"I travel all over the world, and I've rarely seen a line this bad," grumbled Marc Farre, 28, the manager of a New York dance company. "It just aggravates my usual negative feelings about Union Station."
To handle the crowds, Amtrak increased its staff in the terminal, attached extra cars to many of its trains and added 32 trains to routes along the New York-Washington corridor yesterday, according to Amtrak spokesman Arthur Lloyd.
"This is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year," Lloyd said. "Travel during Christmas and New Year's is more spread out."
At midday, Amtrak officials said they expected yesterday to be the heaviest travel day ever with 30,000 to 50,000 passengers passing though Union Station.
"It's a real zoo," said Mark Dorsett, who was leaving the station after picking up a friend from New York.
A few blocks away at the Greyhound-Trailways bus terminal, the lines were not much shorter. Dennis Duven of Silver Spring walked into the packed terminal, took one look at the crowds swelling around the ticket counters and decided to brave the roads.
"Since we've been using the bus, I haven't seen it so bad," said Duven as he left to drive his son, James, to Fort Eustis near Williamsburg, where he serves in the Army.
Larry Kratzer, Greyhound-Trailways regional general manager, said that buses were delayed up to 40 minutes yesterday because of large crowds and weather-related problems.
National Weather Service meteorologist Calvin Meadows said about 2 inches of rain fell in the Washington area between 7 a.m. Saturday and 10:30 p.m. yesterday.
Forecasters expected the rain to end after midnight as a low pressure disturbance that caused the heavy rains moved north of Washington, Caldwell said.
Potomac Electric Power Co. experienced a number of weather-related blackouts, many attributable to water-soaked tree limbs that fell on power lines, according to spokesman Nancy Moses.
About 4,300 customers in Maryland and the District were without power yesterday morning. About 1,700 of those customers temporarily lost power when a car knocked down a utility pole in Potomac, Moses said.
All of the outages were fixed by 9:30 p.m., Moses said.
The steady drizzle caused isolated flooding throughout the Washington area, closing several roads in Fairfax County -- Beulah Road at Browns Mill Road, the 10300 block of Lawyers Road in Vienna, the 5600 block of Pleasant Valley in Chantilly and Woodburn Road at the one-lane bridge. A flash flood watch was in effect last night in Northern Virginia.
Slippery roads, combined with increased traffic from holiday travelers and Christmas shoppers, brought in a large volume of calls to the American Automobile Association, according to Susan Gibson, supervisor for emergency road services.
District police did not report any traffic problems, but state police throughout Virginia and Maryland reported moderate to heavy traffic throughout the day.
A multiple-car accident on I-95 southbound near Woodbridge about 2:15 p.m. caused traffic snarls, Virginia state police said. Also, eastbound traffic was backed up at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel for about three-quarters of a mile because of the large number of holiday travelers, a tunnel police officer said.
By 10 p.m., the highway death toll in Maryland during the long holiday weekend had climbed to 12, compared with nine during the same period last year. Twelve traffic deaths were recorded in Virginia, compared with 15 for the same time last year.
Kimberly Lynn Eggert, 17, of Manassas was one of the holiday weekend fatalities. Eggert was killed when she was thrown from the truck she was riding in as it overturned Saturday night near the intersection of Sanders Lane "I've traveled all over the world, and I've rarely seen a line this bad. It just aggravates my usual negative feelings about Union Station."
-- Marc Farre
and Ford Road in Prince William County, according to Virginia state police Sgt. J.G. Smith.
At National Aiport, police patrols were more than doubled to help control the bumper-to-bumper traffic converging around the airport, said David A. Hess, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
"It's really bad out there," said Hess last night. "It's a really nasty night, and the roadways are heavily congested."
The nightmare of too few parking spaces last year at Dulles International Airport, however, was alleviated because 2,500 spaces were added during the past year, Hess said. Staff writer Kent Jenkins Jr. contributed to this report.