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Sandy Goes Post-Tropical, Ravages D.C. Region

The super storm Sandy sweeps over Pennsylvania Ave. and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Oct. 29.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The super storm Sandy sweeps over Pennsylvania Ave. and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Oct. 29.

10:45 p.m. The situation in Lower Manhattan sounds dire: Flooding is now widespread and a good part of the city is in the dark.

10:15 p.m. Early reports look relatively positive for Pepco who was dealing with about 20,000 outages in their coverage area. There have been more than 100,000 outages so far.

9:15 p.m. The Eastern Shore continues to get the worst of it since Superstorm Sandy made landfall not long ago. Bryan Russo reported on the scene in Salisbury, Md., where National Guard humvees were brought in to help evacuate residents who were underwater.

It's not quite so dire in the DMV area, although reporter Michael Pope reports that as many as 23 roads in Fairfax County are closed due to flooding.

There are reports out of New York City that as much as four feet of seawater is entering subway tunnels under the East River. There have been no reports of similar flooding in the Metro, at least so far, as Metro has not updated since earlier this evening when they announced that service would not resume in the morning.

As for power outages, the numbers continue to crawl northward. As many as 16,900 Pepco customers are without power, 118,000 under Dominion's umbrella are in the dark, and BGE outages are up to a whopping 177,000.

8:40 p.m.: Early voting centers across the Metro region were closed today and they will be closed tomorrow, which will be a major headache for those planning on casting ballots ahead of Nov. 6.

Since early voting began a week ago in the District, 11,000 residents have voted. Clifford Tatum, who heads the Board of Elections in D.C., says city officials will assess storm damage tomorrow before making a decision on how many of the eight early voting centers can be reopened on Wednesday. He says early voting is convenient, but residents can still get to the polls by next Tuesday.

Voters still have the opportunity to come out Thursday, Friday, Saturday and of course there's Election Day.

In Maryland, the early voting period was supposed to end Thursday, but the state extended it until Friday because of the storm.

Gretchen Reinmeyer, a deputy registrar for Arlington County, says their in-person absentee voting centers will also be closed for two days. But she says that won't make a difference because unlike in Maryland and D.C., their centers have been open since the end of September.

7:55 p.m. Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey spoke with WAMU anchor Matt Bush to update us on the utility's status as Superstorm Sandy makes landfall.

"Right now, we had about 15,000 people out in the entire system, and they have shot up to about 23,000 early this evening," says Hainey. "However, because the workers went out despite the conditions, things have improved."

Compared to BGE, with more than 100,000 houses without power and Dominion at 95,000, Pepco is actually doing relative OK. Hainey emphasized that the numbers could still go up as the night goes on.

Hainey says that the difference for Pepco this time, compared to incidents like the derecho storm this past summer, was that they saw Sandy coming.

"Pepco's parent company, Pepco Holdings Inc., secured about 1,563 from states as far away as Texas and Mississippi. A significant number of outside line personnel have shown up at Pepco's staging grounds."

On an unrelated note, if you have elderly neighbors, consider checking up on them this evening or tomorrow. Thousands of seniors went without their usual contributions from Meals On Wheels, reporters Kavitha Cardoza, and other area residents had to do without their regular dialysis treatments.

7:15 p.m. The National Hurricane Center has officially declared Sandy "post-tropical," meaning it is no longer classified as a hurricane. Nonetheless, sustained winds and rain remain high, and the main body of what is now known as "Superstorm Sandy" is moving on-shore.

7:00 p.m.: One resident of Ocean City, Md. describes to reporter Bryan Russo the lengths he went to get off the island. Without the ability to use a car, he waded miles on foot to get to shelter at a friend's house in west Ocean City.

In the District, Patrick Madden says emergency response crews are bouncing from one scene to another. He was on the scene in one Glover Park neighborhood where a tree fell, taking out power for three houses in the neighborhood. For now, wind remains the biggest danger, but the National Weather Service predicts that the Potomac River will start flooding Tuesday and continue through the rest of the week.

6:25 p.m.: The Bloomingdale neighborhood in Northwest D.C. is closely watching the rain today, because as residents there told reporter Martin Dicaro, they have endured four floods since July.

Hundreds of residents placed sandbags in front of basement doors, but there is little folks can do to stop sewage backups from seeping into their basements, a persistent problem a special district task force is investigating.

Our infrastructure is over 100 years old, and was never built to accommodate the level of density that we have here now," says Teri Quinn, the president of the Bloomingdale Civic Association.

Quinn said DPW has been through the neighborhood removing leaves that clog catch basins. At least so far, the flooding appears to be at a minimum.

6:15 p.m.: Power outages continue to ramp up in the D.C. area. As many as 20,000 Pepco customers in D.C. and Maryland are without power, 43,000 Dominion customers — mostly in Northern Virginia — are in the dark, and BG&E reports 67,500 customers sans-service.

Speaking with WAMU host Matt Bush, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell says the commonwealth has contingencies in place in the event that power outages affect Election Day, but he says he doesn't expect that will be the case. He said they will have 2,600 additional personnel in the state to help restoring the power.

5:50 p.m.: Residents on Fenwick Drive and Arlington Terrace in the Huntington neighborhood of Fairfax are now being advised to evacuate.

Meanwhile, coastal reporter Bryan Russo is advising those using social media to stay informed to mind their sources, as several doctored photos showing dramatic scenes of destruction have been circulating.

5:30 p.m.: The low-lying Huntington neighborhood of Fairfax County, which is frequently hit by massive flooding, is being battered, reports WAMU reporter Michael Pope. Neighbors here say they are very concerned about what might happen if Cameron Run starts dumping massive amounts of water into the area, a blue-collar neighborhood where people are still trying to recover from a massive storm last summer.

Next month, voters throughout Fairfax County will be considering a $30 million bond initiative for flood mitigation. The language of the ballot initiative doesn't say anything about Huntington, but county leaders say they would use the money to create a floodwall there — a solution that was recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers back in 2006.

Now, years later, that floodwall has yet to be built here in Huntington. And so neighbors here are preparing for the worst in Hurricane Sandy and hoping for the best on Election Day.

5:00 p.m.: Some more updates on a hodge-podge of topics:

  • Outage numbers begin to spike in the area. BGE reports 38,000 without power, Pepco has 16,000 customers without power, and Dominion reports about 12,000 in the dark.
  • Metro has announced that they will suspend services Tuesday morning, echoing comments they made Sunday night, wherein the resumption of service was predicated on assessment of their infrastructure. MetroAccess, by contrast, has been definitively suspended for all of Tuesday.
  • Amongst the hardest-working people in the D.C. area, beyond the brave souls in the United States Postal Service, are the justices of the Supreme Court. They're in session downtown today, hearing a challenge to a 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

4:20 p.m.: Pepco held a news briefing Monday afternoon, as they continue to try and reassure customers that they will be on top of this storm response.

They have 1,000 of their own restoration personnel ready to go to help restore power after the superstorm hitting Monday into Tuesday subsides. They have committments of 1,800 more personnel through mutual assistance and they're hoping for 2,000 more, so they're hoping to have more than 4,000 people into field to restore peoples' power.

The bottom line: it could take a week to do it. The worst of the storm has to pass before restoration efforts can even begin. Bucket crews are not allowed to go up until sustained winds get back below 35 miles per hour. Then maybe Wednesday, Pepco's regional president Thomas Graham says an all-out assessment effort can begun, and a global estimate could be given.

It could take individual customers at least a week to get their power back on. Graham says the key this time around is that they have prepared. They have the mutual assistance commitments in place, which they expect to improve service response times compared to their much-maligned handling of the derecho storm this past summer.

There are currently 11,600 Pepco customers without power at the moment.

4:00 p.m.: The strongest winds of the storm should be hitting the D.C. area soon, as the latest updates from the NWS have the storm peaking between the hours of 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. tonight.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is already seeking federal disaster assistance, even before the brunt of Hurricane Sandy hits the commonwealth.

Public assistance, which would cover damage to public infrastructure and law-enforcement overtime, does not cover individual assistance, including damage to homes or cars or boats. In a conference call with reporters today, the governor wanted to make sure that Virginians understood the distinction.

"As you'll recall over the last couple of years in snowstorms and tornadoes and derechos that we've had, we've often been approved for public assistance and denied for individual assistance," said McDonnell.

That means that thousands of individuals in Virginia might have to recover from the storm without help from the federal government.

"That's why I''ve made the pitch for our citizens to consider donating to the Disaster Relief Fund or the American Red Cross," said the governor.

The Disaster Relief Fund was created by Governor McDonnell in 2011, following a devastating tornado outbreak in Virginia when individual assistance was denied.

3:45 p.m.: According to the Office of Personnel Management, the federal government will remain closed tomorrow, for all non-emergency personnel.

In Maryland, early voting has again been cancelled, though Gov. O'Malley says that additional days will be added to compensate.

Lest you feel any desire to drive, and you really shouldn't right now, Maryland speed limits have been restricted to 45 miles per hour. If you have to drive, please be sure to turn on your headlights and avoid driving into standing water.

3:15 p.m.: The D.C. area still hasn't seen the brunt of Sandy's force, but already area institutions are announcing they are closed through Tuesday as well. Amtrak has canceled services for Tuesday and all airlines serving the District via Reagan and Dulles have officially canceled operations until further notice. Even Capital Bikeshare has officially shuttered for the duration of the storm.

Most, if not all, area schools will remain closed. DCPS, Falls Church, Howard, Loudoun, Montgomery, Calvert, Charles, Culpepper, Fauquier, Prince William, St. Mary's, Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax county schools have all advised parents to keep kids at home tomorrow as well.

And while most of the concern right now is focused on the human impact of this monumental storm system, officials with the EPA are saying that all the sediment being swept into area waterways could have a big impact on wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay, destroying important oyster beds that have cost millions to put in place.

2:30 p.m.: People along the coast continue to get the worst of superstorm Sandy, even as it is still a couple hours from making landfall. A few stragglers have chosen to ride it out on tiny Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Though some houses have already flooded, the manager of the Tangier History Museum is hanging in there.

Closer to the District, low-lying areas along the water like Old Town, Alexandria are expected to be amongst the hardest hit by the combination of rains and storm surge, but as Michael Pope faithfully reports via Twitter, King Street is still hanging in there.

Just a reminder: if you have any photos, tweet them using the #wamusandy hashtag. But please, don't put yourself in harm's way for a shot.

2:00 p.m.: President Obama spoke at the White House about an hour ago. He urged Americans to: "please listen to what your state and local officials are saying." When ordered to evacuate, the President says "do not delay, don't pause, don't question the instructions that are being given," the president said.

Mr. Obama says he is putting aside concerns about the election. He's worried, about families, first-responders, the economy and other issues. Campaigning from local candidates has also been put on the backburner for the time being.

While everybody in the D.C. region is encourage to hunker down in place, members of the Old Guard continue their vigil over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They've maintained that post continuously since April of 1948. It makes for very striking imagery.

If you can't find a cab in this weather, Uber continues to operate. A spokesman says they are continuing to charge normal rates, in contrast to the $15 taxicab surchage. They will let Uber users know if that changes through their smartphone app.

1:30 p.m.: The National Weather Service has updated their forecast with some new details that could have important fallout for those in low-lying areas of the District.

The NWS says the Potomac River is likely to go into flood stage Tuesday night and will remain so through the rest of the week. The Monocacy River, a tributary of the Potomac which outputs into the Chesapeak Bay will see flood levels not seen since Agnes hit the area in 1972.

Local streams and creeks are also expected to have similar levels of flooding. The NWS will update their flooding forecast around 5 p.m., when the full force of the superstorm will likely be over the D.C. area.

1:00 p.m.: Flights in and out of the region have been cancelled today, and Reagan National Airport is very quiet this afternoon. Stranded passengers are holding where they are, waiting for the storm to pass.

Max Foth, from Vancouver, Canada had a great time visiting friends in Washington this weekend, but didn't pay enough attention to the weather forecast here. So now that his flight is delayed until Wednesday and he apparently can't stay with his friends or afford a hotel room, he's calling the terminal his home.

Max might make a few friends; there are a few other unlucky ones looking forward to sleeping on a somewhat cushioned airport seat. Not only are the terminals eerily empty, the tarmac is cleared of aircraft.

"Not since the 9/11 days has it been this abandoned in the airport," says Dave Mould, a spokesman for the airports authority. He says the airlines won't make any decisions on when to resume flights till tomorrow.

Leaving D.C. has become almost impossible, but even moving within the District is becoming prohibitively expensive. Taxi drivers in D.C. will charge an extra $15 as an emergency fare charge during Hurricane Sandy.

The emergency fare expires at noon tomorrow unless it's explicitly extended.

12:50 p.m.: There are 24 dams in Montgomery County with a risk of flooding. Officials have been monitoring those dams since earlier this morning.

"We've been looking closely at our dams that have a significant or high risk," says Lucille Baur, at the Montgomery County Emergency Operations Center. "Right now, we are monitoring the Burnt Mills Dam. We're not at emergency-level yet, but we have enough concern that we're going to close a portion of Rt. 29 Colesville Rd. in both directions between Crestmoor and Lockwood."

Meanwhile, in Virginia, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending Virginia Task Force One to Fort Dix, N.J., which will serve as a staging area for the group. The 80-person team has deployed all over the world in response to earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Now the task force is adding water rescue specialists to its regular team of firefighters, paramedics, structural engineers and search-and-rescue specialists.

The federal government funds the task force's operations. 

12:30 p.m.: The worst damage from the major storm system so far has taken place along the coast. Bryan Russo describes much of the damage to beloved tourists hotspots from Delaware through Virginia, as well as an alarming story about a homeowner allegedly firing a gun at a boat that broke free of its moorings and threatened to crash into his house.

12:00 p.m.: Local utilities are reporting scattered outages this morning, but say they're able to quickly respond to those outages, at least for now.

BGE officials say more than 2,800 customers have lost power since the beginning of the storm, most of them in Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties. As for Pepco, that utility is reporting limited outages in the District and suburban Maryland, with the largest number of customers without power — nearly 300 — in Northwest D.C.

Meanwhile in Virginia, officials with Dominion Virginia Power say workers have been able to repair outages quickly because Hurricane Sandy's strong winds have not arrived in full force.

"Already throughout northeast North Carolina and up through our eastern region and Northern Virginia, we've experienced about 45,000 power outages, but we're able to stay on top of those right now," says Leha Anderson, a spokeswoman for Dominion.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland and coastal Delaware are already among the harder hit parts of our region in terms of outages. Delmarva Power is reporting nearly 2,000 customers without power in the Ocean City area alone.

11:00 a.m.: Road closures are currently affecting several roads in Montgomery County. A large swath of Beach Drive is closed from the District line. Sligo Creek Parkway is closed from Wayne to Carroll Avenue and Little Falls Parkway is closed from River Road to Massachusetts Avenue, Montgomery County spokeswoman Lucille Bauer says. 

The pedestrian walkway on the Woodrow Wilson bridge in between Maryland and Alexandria , Va. is also closed, WAMU's Michael Pope reports. 

10:41 a.m.: There is high standing water on Connecticut Avenue NW near Macomb Street. Road not blocked completely but the District Department of Transportation is advising drivers on the southbound side to move to the left.  

10:13 a.m.: The fishing pier in Ocean City has been severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy, reports coastal reporter Bryan Russo. 

8:50 a.m.: Dominion Virginia Power has been able to stay on top of power outages that have affected its service area so far because winds have not gotten too high, says company spokeswoman LeHa Anderson, but that is expected to change as the storm worsens throughout the day. 

"At this point we've secured about 2,000 additional resources that will be assisting us for the storm," Anderson says. "For safety reasons, for our crews and the public, we need to make sure the winds are not too high or aggressive before we can get our crews out there. We do ask for patience." 

Dominion is warning people not to touch branches that may have brought down live wires, Anderson adds. Customers are expected to call 911 if they see any live wires down.

8:15 a.m.: This is going to be a "killer storm," Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley tells WAMU's Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey. "We anticipate it will come directly over the Baltimore-Washington area and it will sit on top of the Mason-Dixon line and beat down on us for a good 24 to 36 hour time period." Listen to the full audio of O'Malley's interview.

The governor has deployed national guard resources to Ocean City and elsewhere throughout the state; emergency shelters are open in anticipation of "widespread power outages," the governor said.

Although O'Malley says he has had "his boot up Pepco's backside" to make sure it's ready to recover from the hurricane, Maryland officials are preparing to deal with a longer restoration time than after the June derecho storm that knocked out power to more than 2 million people throughout the D.C. area, mainly on account of the duration of the hurricane, the governor said.

"Unlike the derecho which passed through rather rapidly, this storm is going to sit on top of us, making conditions way too dangerous for the linemen to go up in those bucket trucks to do any restorations," O'Malley says.  "There is no electricity infrastructure that can withstand a storm of this intensity."

Update 7:30 a.m.: Shelters in Montgomery County will open at noon, according to Montgomery County spokeswoman Lucille Bauer. The White Oak Community Recreation Center on April Lane in Silver Spring, the activities center at Bauer Park in Gaithersburg, and the Mid-county Community Recreation Center in Silver Spring are serving as emergency shelters for people whose homes may lose power. White Oak shelter is the only shelter that can take in pets.

The D.C. area is largely hunkered down as Hurricane Sandy moves into the region. The Metro rail and bus system is closed, and the federal government and most local governments are closed. 

A full list of area closures is available from WAMU partner NBC Washington. D.C. area residents are encouraged to be aware of emergency numbers and municipal 311 services. 

People flooded area grocery and other stores for supplies yesterday, and if peopl ehaven't stocked up on necessities by now, it might be too late. Long lines for water and other items formed yesterday as people stocked up to ride out the storm.  

The storm is expected to make landfall somewhere between the Delaware coast and central New Jersey later today; NPR has put together a map of the storm trajectory, emergency shelters and emergency alters that have been issued. 

Metro officials made the decision to close down the system after getting updated forecasts calling for higher wind speeds, and the closure of federal government offices in the Washington area also factored into the decision, officials said. 

There's no timetable for reopening the transit system. 

Meanwhile, Amtrak has cancelled service across the northeastern U.S., and there will be no service for MARC or VRE commuter trains. The MTA Commuter Bus service is canceled as well. Boltbus, Megabus and Greyhound service has been canceled as well.

For people traveling in the District, parking enforcement has been suspended and Capital Bikeshare is closed.

Throughout the mid-Atlantic region, the Red Cross is placing shelter centers, trained disaster workers, vehicles and supplies on alert. Volunteers are also working in close collaboration with government officials and community partners to coordinate potential response efforts. But dedicated as they might be, the volunteers can't do it all. 

That's why it's important to stay in touch with neighbors and family who might find themselves at risk without electricity, says Charlie Shimanski, vice president of disaster services with the American Red Cross says when the power goes out, 

"We need to consider the frail, the elderly, people with disabilities, in our community and we need to check on them to make sure they're ok," Shimanski says. "Often times the elderly are self sufficient in their own homes, but maybe less so if they lose  power and they're not sure quite what to do." 

The Red Cross hurricane app for smartphones provides updates on local shelter locations, weather alerts, and other safety features designed for Hurricane relief. 

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