A beautiful but dangerous coat of ice caused two deaths and hundreds of injuries in the Washington area yesterday, as weather forecasters predicted more cold and snow for today and most of this inaugural week.
A 55-year-old woman was killed on 14th Street NW by one of several Metrobuses that skidded out of control on icy streets yesterday morning, and the driver of an Exxon tanker truck died on the Capital Beltway when his tractor-trailer flipped over on top of a Ford Pinto, exploded and burned. The driver of the Pinto was seriously injured.
While for many there was something wondrous about the day, with ice-covered trees, lawns and streets sparkling in the bright sunshine, the smoothly glazed sidewalks that some youngsters traversed on ice skates proved perilous for many others. Hospitals reported hundreds of weather-related falls and other accidents.
In many areas where sidewalks were more slippery than the roads, pedestrians were walking in the street despite the added risk of being hit by a car.
Although the sun and temperatures that ventured significantly above freezing for the first time in days melted some of the ice yesterday, much of its survived the day, leaving most side streets and unplowed parking lots treacherous to impassable.
Dangerous driving and walking conditions are expected to continue through the beginning of this week, according to the National Weather Service. An immediate return to very cold weather is predicted, with high winds late today and a chance of snow Tuesday before fair skies return Wednesday and Thursday, Jimmy Carter's inauguration as President takes place Thursday.
Among those from whom the ice was a delight yesterday were residents of Carita Court in Bethesda."We've lived here for 12 years," said Stanley Albert, who was just in from skating up and down the street, "and I've never seen anything like it. It's like one big skating park."
But it was a horror for a blind man making his way across Connecticut Avenue near Q Street NW. The man, who declined to give his name, slipped and slid as he tried to get across the broad, treacherous avenue before the light changed.
He said he had to get out regardless of the ice because he needed to get food. "I'd put if off for the last couple of days," he said. "My friends told me it was best to stay in, but I needed the food and I'm going to get it myself."
All local jurisdictions reported far more accidents than usual Friday night and yesterday morning. "There were too many to count them," according to a D.C. police spokesman. The U.S. Park Police said there were 30 or 40 accidents on its parkways compared with about half a dozen normally. Most accidents were of the fender-bender variety and, except for the two fatalities, few serious personal injuries were reported.
Hospitals in the District and nearby Virginia and Maryland said their emergency rooms were very busy with an unusual number of fractures, sprains, cuts and bruises from falls on the ice and minor traffic accidents.
Eight persons were injured before dawn yesterday when a Greyhound bus skidded into a tree near 16th and Underwood Streets NW. All eight victims were taken to the emergency room at the Washington Hospital Center, where seven were released almost immediately and the eighth later in the day.
Police and D.C. Fire Department officials said the bus, which was carrying 34 persons including the driver, was heading into Washington when it began sliding out of control. The passengers, including a baby, were removed through bus windows onto ladders.
The most spectacular accident of the day occurred at 9:25 a.m. on the Beltway near the Dulles Airport access road when a tanker truck loaded with oil crashed, flipped over and burned.
Virginia State Police said the driver of the truck, Joseph Morris, 45, of Alexandria, was killed instantly. Barbara Fuller, 33, of Rockville, suffered lacerations all over her body when the tanker landed on top of her Ford Pinto, which was parked on the shoulder of the road.
According to the Virginia State Police, the truck skidded when its driver braked to avoid hitting a car that had spun out of control on the slippery road, then tried to move to the left, struck another truck, went out of control, flipped over, hit one car, knocking it into the median strip, and landed on the Pinto.
The truck burst into flames immediately and burned for about an hour. What was left when the flames were finally extinguished resembed a charred relief map. Northbound traffic was held up for 3 1/2 hours on the Beltway.
The other fatality occurred at 9:05 a.m., near 14th Street and Parkwood Place NW. According to police, Agnes Franklin, 55, was crossing the street when she slipped and fell on ice. She tried to get out of the way of an on-coming bus, but she was unable to and the bus hit her.
Marion Barksdale, who saw the accident while cleaning ice from the steps of his brother's home at 3509 14th Street NW, said the victim "fell on her back about half way across the street. She sat up for a few seconds then I said, 'Oh, Lord, that bus is going to hit that lady.'"
Barksdale said that the bus slid for 80 to 100 feet before hitting the woman with its left front wheel. She was dead by the time the rescue squad arrived about 10 minutes later.
Numerous other accidents involving Metrobuses were reported yesterday morning, with two occurring within half an hour of each other on New Hampshire Avenue NW, between 20th and 21st Streets.
An L-4 bus hit a parked car at the bus stop between 20th and 21st Streets and, while that bus was still angled out into the icy street, another L-4 struck a car in front of it, which in turn hit another car.
Jesse Holt Sr., a bus driver who has been with Metro for three years, said that "people are under the impression that buses don't skid and slide because they are heavy, but that impression is wrong. The momentum causes you to keep going."
Cody Pfanstiehl, a spokesman for Metro, also blamed extra momentum for the difficulty the buses were having. "By and large the bus operator is a professional," Pfanstiehl said, "but that doesn't account for what nature does."
Icy conditions complicated rescue work at an early morning fire in Hyattsville, in which seven persons were injured, including a four-month-old infant and a fireman. About 65 persons were left homeless, Prince George's County fire officials said.
Several residents of neighboring buildings, their hands and arms outstretched to form a net, caught at least one child dropped from a window of the burning building. One man jumped from a third floor window fracturing both his legs, and several of the building's residents had to be carried from the building by firemen who slipped and slid on the icy sidewalk.
The infant, Michelle Elliott, was taken to Children's Hospital where officials said she was in fair condiiton with burns on the face. Residents interviewed yesterday said the infant's mother, Janice Elliott, dropped her from her third floor apartment window to the outstretched arms of about six men during the height of the smoky blaze.
In many suburban areas the problem was not slippery main streets, but getting to those streets from parking spaces. Many cars were iced in because snow plows had pushed slush up against them and the slush froze overnight.
The weather forecast for the next few days calls for below-freezing temperatures and a chance of snow Tuesday. Skies today are expected to be clear, with strong northwest winds as high as 30 miles an hour forcing temperatures into the teens and below tonight.
Fair, cold weather is predicted for Monday when daytime temperatures are not expected to rise above 20. After Tuesday's chance of snow, the forecast calls for fair skies Wednesday and Thursday with highs near 30.
The forecast means that ice likely will grow worse in rivers and bays on the Delmarva Peninsula. The ice already has halted nearly all waterborne transportation, threatening the area with a fuel crisis.
Recent groundings of several barges in the ice-choked Chesapeake Bay has forced the U.S. Coast Guard to order a halt to all navigation in Tangier Sound in the east-central part of the bay.
Gov. Marvin Mandel said he would take steps to get federal assistance for bay watermen who have been unable to fish or otherwise work because of the icy conditions. Col. James K. O'Brien of the Maryland Civil Defense said his group estimated that the watermen have been losing between $180,000 and $360,000 a day for the last week because of the ice.
An Air France Concorde supersonic transport that was forced to land at Baltimore-Washington International Airport Friday because of icy runways at Dulles International was flown to the Virginia airport this morning and departed on schedule at 1 p.m. yesterday for Paris.
Meanwhile, relief is in sight for the 40 to 50 Fairfax County homeowners whose furnaces were shut down by contaminated fuel oil. A spokesman for Exxon, whoost of the furnaces would be cleaned and refilled with clean fuel by this morning. He said that salt had somehow gotten into the oil and the tanks would have to be thoroughly cleaned out. No similar problems have been encountered in Washington or Maryland.