Eastern U.S. prepares for snow melt, rain
Thursday, February 20, 2003 Posted: 12:01 PM EST (1701 GMT)

A truck dumps snow in Washington Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Days after a record-setting snowstorm slammed the eastern United States, emergency officials were preparing for the possibility of flooding from melting snow and heavy rain.

In Washington, this week's snowfall is estimated to equal roughly 2 billion gallons of water when it melts, according to experts. Worse, another 2 billion gallons of rain is expected from heavy rain forecast for this weekend.

Washington's top water and sewer engineer said those figures are ominous.

"Compare that to about 200 million gallons that we handle every day through the district sewer system [and it] means that we have some challenges ahead of us," said Washington's Water and Sewer Authority's Mike Marcotte."

Many residents of the Potomac and Susquehanna river basins remember damaging floods that followed a similar massive snowfall in 1996.

After that snowstorm, the Potomac River claimed popular Washington waterfront restaurant districts, and Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River rose 10 to 15 feet in a single day, according to The Associated Press.

"With all of this snow on the ground, the potential is there for serious flooding," Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director David M. Sanko told the AP.

"We're hoping that the snow melts slowly, but as history has shown us over and over again, warming temperatures can lead to disaster," Sanko said.

In Baltimore and in New Jersey cities, authorities were urging residents to shovel snow away from sewer grates to give rain and melting snow a place to go, according to AP.

Officials in Northern Virginia told the AP they were monitoring the Potomac upstream from the Washington area in hopes of warning vulnerable residential and tourist locations downriver -- such as Alexandria's Old Town district -- to prepare for the worst.

Dawn Eischen, a spokeswoman for Virginia's Department of Emergency Management, said early flood warnings are rare.

"With three or four days ahead of time, we're trying to do something right now," she told the AP.

Across the Potomac, crews in the nation's capital were working around the clock to clear sewer catch basins so melting slush has somewhere to go, and truck drivers were dumping loads of snow at safe riverside locations.

But Marcotte said his workers have scratched only "the tip of the iceberg."

"Our issue is going to be to try to move as much of that snow and get it off the street as possible between now and Friday or Saturday," he said.

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