Potomac Flooded

Potomac Flooded

Rescue workers warn drivers not to brave high waters.

Nearly 10 inches of rain fell in the Washington, D.C. area on Sunday and Monday, resulting in floods on several major roads in Potomac, threatening to raise the Potomac River above flood level, and twice postponing the final round of the Booz Allen Classic golf tournament at the Tournament Player Club at Avenel.

After hours of pummeling rain Sunday night, the weather cleared Monday morning, and most residents thought the worst was over. However on Monday afternoon, torrential downpour, thunder and lightning returned, causing flash flooding and a slew of severe weather warnings. Rain continued into Tuesday, and heavy thunderstorms were predicted from Tuesday night through early Wednesday morning. Police and emergency rescue teams remained busy from through Tuesday.

“We’re seeing flood waters now that we haven’t seen in probably 25 years,” said Chief Jim Seavey, Sr., of the Cabin John Volunteer Fire Department. “We’re getting floods in areas like River Road … that we didn’t expect.”

“I think we’re going to see a lot more sink-holing before it’s over,” he continued. “We’ll keep close watch on areas like Seneca, Swain’s Lock and the Clara Barton Parkway.”

The storm raged on with callous disregard for work schedules, traffic delays and golf tournaments.

POLICE AND FIRE and rescue personnel from Montgomery County, Fairfax County, the U.S. Navy and the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department responded to a house fire on the 8100 block of Coach Street early in the afternoon on Monday, June 26.

The home, which belongs to the Holahan family, was struck by lightning and caught fire in the upper stories. Emergency responders had the blaze under control by 3:30 p.m., but had to toss damaged furniture and other possessions out the second-story window. Nobody was in the home during the fire, and members of the Holahan family were contacted and arrived on the scene with firefighters still inside.

Samantha Kruse, a 2005 graduate of Walt Whitman High School and a rising college sophomore, was at the tennis office at the River Falls Swim and Tennis Club several blocks away when the lightning struck. “We heard this huge sound,” Kruse said. “Everybody was wondering what it was.”

Kruse attempted to drive to her home on Coach Street, but police blocked off the road, so she parked nearby and walked home and watched the firefighters battle the blaze. “Thank God nobody was hurt,” Kruse said.

Andrea Razak, a neighbor on Coach Road, heard the thunderclap. “When I came out, there was no damage except for a broken window, and smoke coming out,” she said.

In order to combat the fire, the emergency responders knocked out a hole on the house’s upper floor.

THROUGH ITS FIRST three days, the Booz Allen Classic proceeded swimmingly. The last three days of the golf tournament also went swimmingly — in the undesirable sense of the word. The final round, originally scheduled for Sunday, was dragged out into a three-day affair, the first time in 26 years that a PGA golf tournament was until Tuesday morning.

“We had units at both the Booz Allen Classic and the British Open Qualifier,” said Seavey. “I was one of them, and I ended up being stranded on the golf course. I got to watch the Congressional Country Club’s 17th hole turn into a raging river.”

Booz Allen Classic Tournament officials scheduled an early 7 a.m. tee time on Sunday, but play was delayed for six hours as rain fell on Sunday morning, then after 5 hours and 30 hours of play, was postponed late in the afternoon by rain downpours and lightning. By that time, the lead group of golfers – which included leader Ben Curtis — had eight holes left to play.

The Avenel grounds crew worked through Monday morning to get the course in playable shape.

Through Monday morning, tee time was pushed back several times, with golfers finally teeing off just after 11 a.m. They played for six minutes before the next rain cancellation. After noontime, the skies cleared, and with more than an hour of sunshine, Curtis’ group played through five holes. They teed off on the 17th with thunderclouds advancing, and as the golfers walked to the putting green, another downpour started and a horn called all the golfers off the course.

Only two groups were still playing by that point, and they were scheduled to resume play on Tuesday morning. Monday’s play was open for free to the public; spectators were not permitted on Tuesday morning, due to “parking and security concerns,” according to a release from the tournament’s communications office.

RIVER ROAD WAS aptly named on Monday afternoon. At more than four junctures between Potomac Village and Wilson Lane in Bethesda, currents of water more than a foot deep crossed River Road. Vehicles slowed to a stop at the edge before proceeding through one such torrent above Bradley Boulevard, where dirt clods flowed across the road.

“Basically in the Potomac area, a strong cell came through that affected, River Road, MacArthur Boulevard and Bradley Boulevard where we had to remove people from vehicles that were stranded,” said assistant chief Steve Miller of Cabin John. “We also evacuated houses in low-lying areas in other parts of the county.”

The Cabin John rescuers serve all of Montgomery County during severe weather. They responded to 26 river emergencies and rescued 78 people on Sunday night alone. On Monday there were 11 water rescues to save 14 people. On Massachusetts Avenue and Goldsboro Road, the rescue team removed five people from floating cars. There were no water rescues reported on Tuesday as of 2 p.m.

“So far today we’ve been lucky and haven’t had any, but we have the teams ready for the weather they’re calling for this evening,” said Seavey on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve been extremely busy and we’re currently preparing for tonight and tomorrow,” said Miller. “We’ll have three strike teams in service throughout the county.”

“Fortunately no one’s drowned yet, but for a while last night and the evening before, the resources were totally overwhelmed by the number of calls we were requested to answer,” he continued. “We were driving from one to the next as fast as we could. Both nights we had to add additional resources.”

Seavey and Miller were disturbed by some residents’ attempts to cross flooded roads.

“There’s a slogan utilized throughout the fire service: ‘Turn around, don’t drown,’” said Miller. “Think about what’s on the other side. Is it really that important that you’re willing to be stranded in moving water and possibly drown? Is it really worth it?”

“Especially in this area, people should be prudent enough and wise enough not to cross water traversing a roadway,” said Seavey. “It might be inconvenient but it’s much safer to turn around and seek an alternate route.

“Water at this depth and this fast could take your car away and your life away,” he continued. “People in this area have extremely busy and hectic lives, and when they’re told to turn around and go another route, they don’t seem to want to do it. We’re going to lose people if this continues.”

Seavey warned residents to stay far away from smoking power lines, such as one that was spotted on Kentsdale Road.

“Stay at least one additional power line or transformer away from the transformer that’s on fire,” he said. “13,000 to 69,000 volts are going through those. That’s a tremendous amount of energy, enough to throw a three-foot hole in the pavement. So if it looks like a smoking wire, stay away from it.”

ON MONDAY EVENING, the National Park Service instituted a Flood Emergency Plan to protect the Great Falls Tavern from the rapidly rising Potomac River. The Potomac Conservancy called upon local residents to help fill 500 sandbags on Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Volunteers were advised to bring a shovel, dress warmly and “prepare to get wet and a little dirty.”

Fortunately, new data on Tuesday morning suggested that the tavern was no longer in danger, and the emergency sandbagging effort was canceled.

“We received a call last night [from the National Park Service] about a threat to the tavern, then we received a call this morning that because of where rain is falling in the region, the threat has subsided,” said Kevin Mack, vice president for conservation for the Potomac Conservancy, on Tuesday. “We don’t expect to have to sandbag at all at the tavern site. In looking at the river gauges, [the Park Service] determined that there is less of a threat to the tavern.”

“We canceled the requests based on changing weather conditions,” explained John Noel, the partnerships and volunteer coordinator for the Park Service. “On the predictions we originally had, the water level at the crest was supposed to be between 11 and 13 feet, which is flood stage [for the tavern]. Early this morning after looking at the latest data, it was only predicted to be 9.8 feet at crest.”

Noel said that technically the river is flooded, but not to the point where it is likely to endanger the tavern. The data was collected at the Little Falls river gauge.

Other storm-related issues affecting the National Park Service in the Potomac area on Tuesday included:

* A large tree fell across the entrance road to C&O Canal National Historical Park where the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center is located and downed an electric line. Pepco was on the scene on Tuesday afternoon to repair the power line. The gate was closed to all visitors through most of Tuesday.

* Debris build-up caused by high waters near the culvert of Pennyfield Lock.

* Debris build-up in the Swain’s Lock area.

“We’re still assessing damage, but I don’t think we suffered anything significant,” said Noel on Tuesday. “But the water level did come up pretty high in a few places so there’s debris build-up.”