Though Hurricane Sandy took only a sideswipe at Washington, area residents awoke Tuesday to find that even a glancing blow from the unusually powerful storm was enough to cause massive power outages and extensive damage.
Winds calmed and the heavy rain tailed off as the storm system pushed toward the upper Midwest, but downed power lines, toppled trees and scattered flooding closed schools and government offices for a second day. Four deaths in Maryland and Virginia were attributed to the storm.
Local officials also warned that flooding could worsen over the next two days as the tide rises and storm-swollen rivers and creeks flow from the north and west into local waterways. More than 300,000 people from Virginia to Baltimore remained without power .
But many also awoke with a sense of relief that the destruction wasn’t worse, and some of the ordinary rhythms of life resumed. Metro trains rolled again after service resumed at 2 p.m., the Chesapeake Bay Bridge reopened after a record closure, and school districts in the District and in Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George’s counties announced that classes would resume Wednesday after a two-day break. Federal workers were also expected to return to normal duty after a two-day hiatus unless they arranged to work from home or take unscheduled leave.
“We were spared the worst,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who had warned that the coming storm would be a killer. “It’s clear we were fortunate to be on the weaker side of the storm.”
In Fairfax County, authorities reported that 52 trees fell onto homes in the county, though no one was hurt. Ninety roads were closed because of flooding or downed trees, and 100 traffic lights were not working because of power outages. But residents of the flood-prone Huntington community were told they could return home, and officials said no homes in that area had flooded. A Prince George’s County spokesman counted only eight trees down and a few roads closed. In the District, by comparison, only one intersection was without power, at Minnesota Avenue and Ely Place SE.
“It obviously could have been a lot worse,” D.C. Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle said. “In terms of the signals out and power outages I’ve seen, it doesn’t look that overwhelming.”
Many residents marveled that they had got off so lightly. Jay Groff, of Springfield, said he bailed out sump pumps in his home until the wee hours Tuesday to keep the basement from flooding and save his wooden floors. And the Bradford pear tree that toppled onto Highland Street and blocked the road for several hours was gone by midday.
“There’s lots of leaves and debris around. But that’s the extent of it,” Groff said.
To the north, east and west of the region, the story was very different. The storm system brought blizzard conditions to West Virginia and western Maryland, pummeled beach towns on the Maryland, Delaware and Virginia coasts and overwhelmed much of New York and New Jersey.
An estimated 7.5 million people were without power up and down the East Coast, with at least 33 people in eight states believed to have died in the storm.
A Montgomery County, Md., woman was killed in a head-on collision in Clarksburg on Monday morning, and a Pasadena man was killed when a tree fell on his house Monday night. In Richmond early Tuesday, a car failed to navigate a left turn and hit a light pole and two trees, killing the driver and a passenger, police said. Speed was a factor in the accident, as well as rain and wet pavement.
In addition, a Laurel man was in critical condition, and two women were in serious condition, after being taken to a hospital for treatment of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning stemming from improper use of a generator, authorities said.
As of 4 p.m., about 238,000 people in the Washington-Baltimore area lacked power — and in a turn-around from many past storms, the District and its Maryland suburbs were faring far better than other areas.
About 65,000 Dominion Virginia Power customers remained without electricity Tuesday afternoon, or about 8 percent of homes and businesses. Outages there had peaked at about 140,000 at midnight Monday.
Outages for Baltimore Gas & Electric stood at 149,000 on Tuesday afternoon, about 12 percent of its customers. That was down from a peak of 217,000 homes and businesses without electricity from Monday evening.
BGE executives said they expected new outages to occur over the next few days as trees and tree limbs weakened by the storm continued to fall on power lines.
Pepco announced that it expected to have the lights back on for the “vast majority” of its 12,000 affected customers by 8 a.m. Wednesday, and that it would achieve full restoration by late Wednesday. Pepco outages peaked late Monday at about 44,000.
“The remaining damage to the system is relatively localized, with a lot of individual outages,” said Pepco regional President Thomas H. Graham. Company executives said they experienced about 10 times more outages after the June 29 derecho storms.
With most area power outages concentrated in Northern Virginia, residents of Bethesda, Rockville and other jurisdictions that historically have experienced long power outages exulted at their relative good fortune.
“It’s kind of a vacation for me,” said Debra Cameron of North Bethesda, who, based on the forecast and her experience in past storms, had prepared for a prolonged period without electricity.
Her lights never flickered, however. And her work was canceled for the day, which left her with free time and no real storm fallout to contend with.
Repair crews in some areas began restoring power as soon as it was safe to work outside again. In Ocean City, Md., where the pier was shorn in two Monday, maintenance crews braved a cold, blustery wind and began to clear streets and the town’s iconic boardwalk. Nearly 10 inches of rain deluged the town, which was also battered by hurricane-force gusts that ripped signs off posts, tore heavy metal benches off their perches and scattered sand and debris far from the beach. No major injuries were reported.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which closed Monday afternoon because of dangerously high winds, reopened at 9 a.m. The Maryland Transportation Authority said the 18-hour closure was the longest weather-related shutdown since the nearly 400-foot-tall bridge was built in 1952. Wind gusts topped out at 90 mph, and the highest sustained wind was 74 mph, said Kelly Melhem, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority.
In Washington, the $15 surcharge authorized by the D.C. Taxicab Commission expired automatically at noon Tuesday, 24 hours after it began. The surcharge could have been canceled early or extended, but the city’s taxicab commission didn’t elect to do so.
Virginia Regional Transit resumed normal service as of 1 p.m. Tuesday, and air traffic is expected to resume his afternoon at Dulles, Reagan National and Baltimore Washington International airports.
The Maryland Transportation Administration said MARC train service will resume normal service on Wednesday, and CSX said freight trains were rolling again Tuesday evening between Philadelphia and Richmond, though service farther north between the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast could remain suspended for another 72 hours.
Amtrak, whose Northeast Corridor service between Washington and Boston remained suspended Tuesday, said limited service north and south of New York City might resume Wednesday, depending on damage assessments and cleanup progress. But crews were still working Tuesday to repair downed power lines and remove debris from its busiest route. Some tracks were also flooded.
“We’d like to start limited service Wednesday, but I can’t say if or where that would happen,” said Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm. The corridor is Amtrak’s busiest, with more than 750,000 trips daily, including commuter runs. He said the storm affected service as far as New Orleans, Chicago and Miami.
Just as the region was spared Sandy’s worst, some areas in the suffered worse than others.
In the hard-hit town of Crisfield, Md., National Guard and swift water rescue teams evacuated more than 100 people from the Summer’s Cove area. Electricity had been cut off entirely to the city, and some residents remained stranded in the dark, sheltering on the second floor of homes flooded with five feet or more of water, officials said. And blizzard conditions shut down highways and knocked out power in the mountainous areas of western Virginia, West Virginia and western Maryland.
More flooding was expected throughout the area, however. Officials said the Potomac River had risen six inches between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., and was less than a foot from its banks in some places. The National Weather Service said water levels should crest Wednesday or Thursday.
Politics were put on hold for a second day in Virginia, as former governors George F. Allen (R) and Timothy M. Kaine (D) took a break from their closely watched Senate race. Kaine said he wasn’t in the mood to watch television — too many negative ads about himself, he said — but wanted to catch up on sleep for the closing run toward Election Day.
Allen said he carved a pumpkin with his youngest child, Brooke, and performed chores his wife had for him.
“I had to do some stuff around the house, that’s for sure,” he said.
Kaine said he would resume campaigning on Wednesday.
Virginia resumed accepting in-person absentee ballots at some locations Tuesday, though sometimes with reduced hours. All were expected to reopen Wednesday, provided that heavy snow in the commonwealth’s mountainous areas didn’t interfere. Don Palmer, Secretary of the State Board of Elections, also called on locations affected by the storm to extend their absentee voting hours until absentee period ends Saturday.
Some of the locations that closed for almost two days were in vote-rich Northern Virginia, a potential disadvantage for President Obama, who swept the region four years ago and won a sizable margin in absentee voting. Polls were closed in Accomack, Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Tazewell and Wise counties and in Falls Church City, the State Board of Elections said. By 4 p.m., however, Fairfax resumed in-person absentee balloting until 8 p.m. at its central location. Seven satellites remained closed, however.
Officials in Maryland, where early voting was canceled Monday, said voting would resume Wednesday, and polling stations would extend their hours and stay open for an additional day to make up for the time lost to the storm.
“We dodged a major bullet,” said Fairfax County Supervisor Gerry Hyland, who was at the command post and whose district includes Huntington.
With schools closed, parks sodden and extra-curricular activities cancelled, families suffering from cabin fever sought refuge wherever they could find it. In Arlington, a popular escape was JW Tumbles, a play space for young children.
“Essentially a hamster maze where they can run around and run themselves ragged,” said Sandra Alboum, who was sitting in the hallway while her children, ages 4 and 6, played inside. “I’m crawling up walls,” Alboum said. “I had to get out. They had to get out.”
Borden reported from Ocean City, Md. Lynh Bui, Ann E. Marimow, Lori Aratani, Emma Brown, Tim Craig, Aaron C. Davis, Hamil R. Harris, Ed O’Keefe, Donna St. George, Laura Vozzella, Del Quentin Wilber, William Branigin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Looking for something specific? Here’s a guide to our Hurricane Sandy coverage on washingtonpost.com:
Weather survival tips