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Few lingering effects from Sandy in Washington D.C.

Wednesday - 10/31/2012, 4:26pm  ET

BEN NUCKOLS
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Government workers packed onto commuter trains and tourists flocked to the National Mall on Wednesday in the nation's capital, where there were few signs of the dangerous hybrid storm that blew through 36 hours before.

The Potomac River was swollen and muddy after receiving 7 inches of rain from Sandy, but Washington was largely spared the damage seen by other East coast cities.

"We got lucky. The storm went north. Though we did get a lot of rain and we did get a lot of wind, we didn't get the brunt, clearly, like New Jersey and New York did," said Christopher Geldart, the city's emergency management director. "Everything we could possibly do ahead of time to prep for this, we did."

Even Pepco, the much-maligned local utility, was praised by officials for getting the lights back on quickly. More than 130,000 Pepco customers in the District of Columbia and its Maryland suburbs lost power at some point during the storm, but by Wednesday afternoon, fewer than 1,000 customers remained in the dark.

In June, a violent thunderstorm called a derecho left many Washington-area residents in the dark for a week, and Pepco was roundly criticized. But the slow-moving hurricane allowed the utility to start preparing a full week in advance, Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal said.

"Overall, preparedness was really high for this," he said.

On the National Mall Wednesday morning, the only signs of the storm were a few puddles and downed tree branches. Jody Jeffers, 49, of Oakhurst, Calif., was heading into the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History with his wife and three children, who had spent most of Monday and Tuesday holed up in a hotel.

"It's lightly attended, so we've got to be happy about that," Jeffers said.

Although federal and local government offices and city schools were closed Monday and Tuesday, the storm wasn't enough to keep D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson out of the office.

"I came down to the District Building on Monday afternoon as the storm was intensifying and couldn't help but wonder, `Did we really need to close the city? This is just a storm,'" Mendelson said.

Predictions of sustained gale-force winds lingering over Washington for 24 hours or longer didn't turn out to be accurate as the worst weather moved out by Tuesday morning. By Tuesday night, the city had sprung to life again, with crowds packing the bars and restaurants of the Gallery Place district downtown.

Early voting resumed Wednesday after being shut down for two days, and hours were extended. At midday, the downtown early voting site was crowded, with a few dozen voters sitting in chairs and waiting about 10 minutes for their numbers to be called. Voters said they weren't inconvenienced by the storm.

Tatiana Hernandez, 43, a freelance American Sign Language and spoken Spanish interpreter, was trying to make up for two days of lost work. She said officials overreacted to the storm.

"I was surprised that everything shut down the way that it did," Hernandez said. "We could have gone to work at least half of the day on Monday."

At the Washington Harbour residential and retail complex in Georgetown _ which still hasn't fully recovered from flooding in April 2011 _ floodgates were up to protect buildings from the surging Potomac River, which was predicted to crest at 8 feet Wednesday night. The flooding was not expected to affect the Mall or any major landmarks.

Jeff Herbig, 48, the captain of a riverboat that ferries passengers from Alexandria, Va., to Georgetown, stood on a dock at Washington Harbour, watching tree trunks and other debris float down the muddy, fast-moving river. He said the storm wouldn't affect his business much.

"We're in November," he said. "If this was May or June, we'd be crying the blues."

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Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at http://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)