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Huge water main break traps drivers in DC suburb

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BETHESDA, Md. — Rescuers scrambled helicopters and boats to pull commuters from frigid floodwaters unleashed by a massive water main break Tuesday on a commuter road just outside Washington.

One neighbor described the torrent as a river that filled the street after the rupture of a main measuring 5-1/2 feet in diameter.

"I thought it might be a minor leak, then suddenly I stepped outside and 'My God!"' said Raj Bhansaly, whose house is about 50 feet from the flood. "It looked literally like the Potomac River."

Television images showed two people in a minivan climbing into a basket lowered from a helicopter overhead. A boat also was used to rescue motorists from waters at least 4 feet deep. At least one person could be seen sitting in a two-door vehicle as the flood gushed past.

About a dozen people had been rescued from their vehicles, Montgomery County fire department spokesman Pete Piringer said. Piringer said crews were having trouble getting to people because the water was moving so swiftly.

He said several of those rescued were treated for hypothermia. The temperature was around 20 degrees in the area, the National Weather Service said.

From his house, Bhansaly said he could see two cars in the rushing water that were tied to rescue vehicles with ropes. He said he wasn't worried about water damage to his home because it sits on a hill.

The 66-inch water main broke about 8 a.m. on River Road near the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, authorities said.

John White, a Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission spokesman, said the valves to shut off the water were underwater. White said he did not know exactly where the break occurred.