Lettie Shores has trouble keeping track of the times that the waterfront property in Point of Rocks, Md., where she has lived all her 77 years, has been flooded by the waters of the Potomac.
"I've been in all the floods," she said. "This must be the 15th or 20th time . . . . This was the worst of them as far as I'm concerned."
Worse even than the floods in 1936 and 1972, both of which destroyed her homes when the water swept them off their foundations.
"Those times it was easier because we just started over from scratch. This time the house is still there and we have to clean out all that mess."
A total of 130 people from 28 houses were evacuated from this riverfront town of about 1,000 people 50 miles northwest of Washington.
By the time the Potomac had crested at 38 feet early yesterday, only a few inches of Shores' home -- built with brick on a cement foundation to withstand flooding after Hurricane Agnes in 1972 -- was still visible.
Shores credits a sixth sense for the decision to move all her belongings out of the house Tuesday -- earlier than most of her neighbors decided to evacuate their homes.
Shores said it may be three months before she will be able to move back in her home, much of which will have to be gutted due to mud damage. She will stay with family until then.
When she was a child, Shores said, she used to almost enjoy the recurring floods at Point of Rocks. "Floods are exciting for the kids and for people who aren't in them . . . . I'm getting a little too old."
Nonetheless, Shores answers the inevitable question before it is asked: "Why do I stay? I've been here all my life and I like it here. If I lived up on a hill my house could be hit by a tornado or a fire. You know, something we can't control is Mother Nature." -- John F. Harris
The flooding made traffic even worse than the usual morning rush hour snarl for thousands of Virginia commuters battling their way into the city yesterday. One lane of Memorial Bridge remained closed, as it has been since summer; work crews continued repaving operations as the swollen river rushed beneath them. Rubberneckers eying the rising water made traffic even slower in the two remaining lanes.
But the crowning blow for already-hours-late drivers came about 10:30 a.m., when westbound traffic on Constitution Avenue came to a standstill as well. The problem? A small caravan of students rolling a shiny beer keg down the street to raise funds for St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Leading the students' way: a D.C. police officer on a motorcycle, with warning lights flashing. -- Ward Sinclair
The geese swam serenely through the Charles S. Price trailer park in Charles Town, W.Va., Wednesday afternoon, threading their way through the sunken cars and submerged mobile homes.
Bill Sours stared stoically at his trailer, one foot of which had yet to be swallowed by the muddy waters of the Shenandoah River.
"You never figure the river would rise this high . . . . " he said. "This is the last time I live by the river." -- John F. Harris
At the Jefferson Memorial, dawn brought a gathering of white and gray seagulls, which flocked to the Tidal Basin and looked like something out of an Escher drawing as they dove for fish in the swollen waters.
The area attracted mostly curiosity seekers and tourists who marveled at the sight and took in the colorful autumn leaves, bright clear skies and spring-like weather.
"Isn't this fantastic," said David Mastrick, 20, a free-lance photographer from Alexandria. "Look at the birds, God, look at all the birds. There must be a couple of thousand of them."
"And all the helicopters passing by overhead, everybody is here -- the National Guard, D.C. police, I think I even saw a Navy helicopter," he said.
Each time one of the helicopters swooped by, the seagulls took off in excitement and confusion. -- Edward D. Sargent
What's a flood without a flood party?
At noon yesterday, revelers gathered at Chadwick's -- one of two businesses then left open on K Street NW in Georgetown. They included tourists who had come to see the rising water, business owners who had closed because of the rising water, and others who saw the rising water as a reasonable excuse to have a good time.
A competition rapidly developed among three Georgetown businessmen to see who had been in most demand by area news media to comment on the impending flood.
Chadwick's manager, Joe McGuinness, claimed that he was most popular because he had declared on Wednesday that he would not sandbag his building and would stay open regardless of what happened.
Brad Altman of Altman Parking Services said he was sought out by reporters because he owns a parking garage with four decks below street level -- making questions about his liability insurance most appropriate. Altman decided at 7:30 a.m. yesterday to close his business and spend the day towing cars out of the garage, sandbagging his doorway, and yes, talking to the press.
Ron Swarthout of Georgetown Floor Covering waited until yesterday to panic and removed five truckloads of carpeting from his first-floor business. To his friends gathered at Chadwick's, he denied any fear and said he was only spring cleaning -- for the second time since Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
At 1:30 p.m., the score on the chalkboard under the Bailey's Irish Cream sign stood at 10 for McGuinness, 9 for Altman and 5 for Swarthout.
And what would the winner get?
"A deep sense of satisfaction," said Altman, laughing as he ordered another round of drinks. -- Linda Wheeler
It is a mayor's duty to survey his town during moments of impending disaster, and Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran made his rounds yesterday with a certain continental style.
Moran, barefoot and with rolled-up pant legs, rowed through the flooded intersection of King and Union streets in a gondola with an ornamental mermaid at the prow. The "Fish Market Shuttle," as the boat was immediately dubbed, was lent by George Ellmore, general manager of The Fish Market restaurant on King Street.
Moran's theatrical tour was perhaps the high point in a day that, after much emergency planning and preparation, became a spontaneous street fair in Alexandria. Bullfeathers, a popular lunch spot, hung out a sign declaring itself the "official flood watch watering hole."
"It's an act of God, who would miss that?" said Roselle Johnson, from her lunchtime perch on the balcony of The Fishmarket. "But as disasters go, it's a little like watching the grass grow."
While gawkers were plentiful, business was a little less than booming in the town.
"I put a life preserver in the window, but nobody seems interested," said Sally Williams, manager of Port of Alexandria, a nautical gift shop on South Union Street. "Business has gone completely bloop." -- Michael Specter