Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Senate ceased operations shortly before noon Thursday, hoping to give members and staff enough time to depart before the arrival of Hurricane Isabel. Federal employees in the Metropolitan Washington area holding non-emergency jobs were told not to report to work and monuments protected by the U.S. Park Police were closed to the public, possibly until next week.
Sgt. Scott Fear, U.S. Park Police public information officer, said the National Park Service is not taking any unnecessary risks with Isabel.
"With the federal government closed and the storm approaching, we have everything closed right now to the general public," Fear said. "We'll get all the monuments and everything opened up just as soon as we can but right now, we're encouraging people just to stay inside and wait out the storm."
The municipal government of the District of Columbia announced Wednesday evening that its offices would be closed both Thursday and Friday.
The Senate's home page summarizes what has become Washington's most significant news of the week in only two sentences.
"Due to inclement weather caused by Hurricane Isabel, Capitol tours have been suspended until 9:00 a.m. Monday, Sept. 22nd," the website states. "There will be no session on Friday, Sept. 19th and many offices will be closed due to inclement weather caused by Hurricane Isabel."
The House has also decided not to meet Friday.
Federal workers were told Wednesday evening that they should expect an extra day off Thursday. Shortly thereafter, the regional subway system announced that it would accept passengers only until 11:00 a.m. Thursday and commuter railroads in Maryland and Virginia decided that they would not operate at all.
Public Information Officer Jessica Gissubel with the U.S. Capitol Police said at least some Capitol Police officers have made arrangements to ride the storm out at work so that they will be available should weather conditions deteriorate in a manner that calls for an increased law enforcement presence. The working conditions may not be the most comfortable, she said, but officers are prepared.
"Of course, any [severe] weather becomes a difficult situation to work in, but it's something that we're trained to work with, we work through," Gissubel explained. "We're well equipped, we have our rain gear and we're ready for the storm."
Capitol Police officers are doing what they can to accommodate congressional staff and visitors who simply must work or keep appointments.
"We will be limiting access to the buildings," Gissubel said. "However, we want to make sure those buildings are kept open and people can come in as they need to."
Capitol Police officers are also working very closely with the Architect of the Capitol, providing the "eyes and ears" for that agency, which is responsible for maintaining the Capitol buildings and grounds.
"We have a lot of officers out there and we're ready to keep an eye out and report anything we see that could become airborne or could be hazardous to anybody," Gissubel said. "We will be immediately reporting that to the architect and they'll come out and take care of it."
While the buildings in the Capitol complex will remain open during normal business and staff hours, Gissubel said Thursday and Friday might not necessarily be the best days to visit.
"This is a good time to take advantage of some quality time indoors with your family," Gissubel said. "We're preparing for the worst and it's not a good situation to put yourself in out there. It's not safe."
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