DC's Post-Earthquake Gridlock Raises Questions About Emergency Evacuations

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Gridlock traffic backing up in downtown DC after Tuesday's earthquake (photo by Elliott Francis)

(Diane Hodges and Markette Smith, Washington, DC - WAMU) Tuesday's earthquake triggered some of the worst traffic jams since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the massive traffic problems have prompted questions about the way District officials handled the situation.

Many commuters sat in their cars for hours, trying to get home after the earthquake ended. Others crowded in train and Metro stations, after some lines were temporarily shut down while crews inspected lines.

John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic said the panicked reactions only made the mess worse. "Although people had been assured that their buildings were safe and sound," he said, "most peopled decided to head for the exits at 3 o'clock."

He faulted D.C. officials for not anticipating the reaction and giving workers more direction -- more quickly.

"They didn't plan for a public panic and that's exactly what happened," he said. "There should have been greater communication."

Townsend said the District Department of Transportation and the Department of Homeland Security have set up 25 evacuation routes out of the city, but many people don't know where they are. Commuters should find the one nearest to their offices, so they'll be ready for the next emergency. There are "E-route" signs placed around the city.

One important fact: during an emergency evacuation, Pennsylvania Avenue divides the city between North and South and no vehicles are allowed to cross any part of the road.

You can listen to this story on WAMU.