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Concerns grow about Potomac River flooding, outages

October 30, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • The U.S. Capitol in predawn light in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Capitol in predawn light in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in Washington,… (Shawn Thew / EPA )

WASHINGTON — The heavy rains and strong winds have eased here, but officials remain concerned about flooding from the Potomac River and widespread power outages.

After Monday's heavy rain in the District of Columbia broke a record set in 1885, officials said they were keeping a close eye on the Potomac. 

"There are a lot of the smaller streams that flow into the Potomac, a lot of them that are flooded right now,'' Jason Elliott, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told the Los Angeles Times. "We're watching those first."

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The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority planned to resume subway service Tuesday afternoon, but officials asked people to continue to stay off the road. 

Federal offices remained closed but Maryland hopes to resume early voting Wednesday.

Nearly 700,000 utility customers in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia had lost power.

"People just need to be patient,'' Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said on WTOP radio. "I know they've got storm fatigue.''

Reagan National Airport recorded 3.85 inches of rain Monday, breaking the Oct. 29 record of 2.69 inches for the Washington area, set in 1885. While rain was still falling in the D.C. region, winds have eased.

Officials were concerned about tidal surge from southerly winds on the backside of Sandy that is pushing several feet of water into the upper tidal Potomac. That could cause flooding into the waterfront areas in the District of Columbia and Alexandria, Va. Water was two to four feet above the normal tide. 

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"The heavy rain that fell to the north and west of us is all flowing into the Potomac River right now, and that's going to come down tomorrow and reach the D.C. area tomorrow into Thursday," Elliott said.

Those conditions could cause some flooding in the Georgetown area. Flooding also remained a concern in Maryland.

"Flooding issues will be with us for quite a few days,'' Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said at a Tuesday morning briefing, adding that there have been evacuations in Havre de Grace, north of Baltimore near the Delaware border.

A sewage plant that lost power was discharging sewage into the Little Patuxent River, but O'Malley said utility crews were working to restore electricity.

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As of Tuesday morning, 19 sewage spills of various sizes have been reported in the state. Samantha Kappalman of the Maryland Department of the Environment, said: "We are continuing to assess information statewide. Local jurisdictions have responsibility to notify about overflows with potential health effects, but we are unaware of any at this time,'' she said. 

Ed McDonough of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency said western Maryland has been hit with as much as two feet of snow as well as power outages.

"They're used to a lot of snow out there," he said. "They're not necessarily used to it this early in the year, and they're not necessarily used to it being so wet and heavy.'' 

Utility crews were out at dawn Tuesday working to restore power.

Maryland had about 321,000 people without power Tuesday morning, according to McDonough.

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