Washington begins to feel Hurricane Sandy

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Lisa Gartner

Before the worst of Hurricane Sandy even hit Monday, the powerful storm was poised to shut down the Washington area for another day.

The federal government, announced that it would remain closed Tuesday, shortly after Maryland and the District made the same call in anticipation of Sandy. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is slated to make a decision about Virginia employees at 5 p.m. Monday.

(See a photo gallery of storm images and follow the latest updates from the Examiner)

Metro said it would keep service closed Tuesday morning, until agency officials can assess any damage and the weather conditions.

The National Weather Service is now predicting winds of up to 90 miles per hour. The brunt of Sandy was slated to hit late Monday afternoon and last for 24 to 36 hours.

"This will be like any storm we've ever had to weather. It's going to be very intense, very violent winds, and the safest place for you to be will be indoors," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said. "The reality that we're dealing with for Maryland is worse than we thought it would be 12 hours ago."

(Watch storm videos from the D.C. region and the latest videos from around the country)

All the local school systems announced plans to stay shuttered on Tuesday, and many residents are already without power. About 6,300 Pepco customers in D.C., Prince George's County and Montgomery County are already without power as of 3:30 p.m., with many, many more expected to lose power overnight and Tuesday, region President Tom Graham said. Restoration efforts could exceed a week.

In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell warned that Northern Virginia would be hit hard and had, as of 1 p.m., barely felt the true effect of Sandy. Yet, 4,500 Dominion customers in Northern Virginia were already without power.

"We'd be shocked if those numbers don't go up dramatically," McDonnell said. "We're concerned about Northern Virginia where the wind gusts could be [upward of] 70 miles per hour at the peak of the torm, which is estimated to be some time in the early morning hours."

Utilities warned that millions of residents could be without power, and that outages could last up to a week. Baltimore Gas and Electric had about 5,000 outages as of Monday afternoon.

Fairfax County sent out an emergency alert: "Think of the derecho storm with high winds in June that lasted 24 minutes. The winds we're about to experience beginning this afternoon are like the derecho, but they will last for 24 hours."

Perhaps the coastal areas served as the best warning of what lay in store for Washington. In Ocean City, the fishing pier was "half-gone" by Monday morning, O'Malley said. Hampton Roads was flooded this morning after "an astronomical high tide," McDonnell said. And snow fell in Roanoke and Blacksburg.

The federal government activated Virginia Task Force One, an elite 80-person search and rescue team based in Fairfax County. The team is waiting word on potential deployment in Chantilly.

Maryland moved to close several of its bridges Monday afternoon, including the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, as winds picked up.

Parts of Beach Drive and Little Falls Parkway were closed off by noon, while traffic signals went dark, including at Shady Grove Road and the off ramp at Interstate 370. Gutters along Rockville Pike were backing up, creating large standing puddles in the roadway. The usually bustling thoroughfare only had light amounts of traffic.

Eight roads in Fairfax County were closed by Monday afternoon, mostly due to high water, county officials said.

The National Weather Service said the Potomac River is likely to flood Wednesday and remain flooded through Friday.

The last flights out the area's three major airports left around 9 a.m. Monday. No flights in, no flights out.

With federal and local governments, Metro, and schools all shut down, the District was a ghost town. Every Starbucks on K Street closed its doors.

Metro officials, who suspended all rail and bus service Monday for the first time since 2003's Hurricane Isabel, had not yet decided whether public transit would be operational on Tuesday. Metro stations were abandoned Monday morning, as most commuters got the message that transit was closed. At Rockville Metro Station, a short line of cabs still waited outside to get fares from would-be Metro riders who hadn't heard the news.

D.C. authorized its cabs to charge an extra $15 on top of regular meter fares through noon on Tuesday, saying taxi drivers were taking a risk being out on the road.

Although rain fell heavily on Monday morning, Washingtonians dashed between grocery stores and gas stations, seeking out last-minute batteries and food before Sandy fully set in.

At a Home Depot in Gaithersburg, Toni Morgan loaded a large sheet on plywood into her van.

"We have a big window in our bedroom," Morgan explained.

In the District, 27-year-old Annie Dreazen woke up early Monday morning to acquire one of the last flashlights at Dupont Circle's True Value Hardware. "If I'm going to be in the house all day I'm going to get stir-crazy," Dreazen said. "At least this way I can read if the power goes out."

Staff writer Liz Farmer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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Lisa Gartner

Examiner Staff Writer - education
The Washington Examiner