By Jason R. Garcia and Shantee Woodards
WASHINGTON – Dripping-wet tourists trudged through the slippery halls of the Capitol on Thursday, seemingly unconcerned about the looming hurricane that sent many members of the House scurrying home.
Visitors shrugged off the threat of Hurricane Floyd, sightseeing under the Capitol Rotunda in their ponchos, galoshes and umbrellas.
“We actually drove up from Virginia to get away from it,” said Hugh Lawton, visiting from the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel. “We think you’re overreacting. It’s not really raining all that hard.”
House members, led by East Coast representatives, had voted to suspend proceedings, canceling floor action, committee hearings and news conferences on Thursday. Bill Ester, a tourist from Kansas, couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
“Believe me, we have stronger winds in Kansas,” he said.
But it was business as usual on the Senate side of the Hill.
“We’re like the post office – rain, snow, sleet, we’ve got to be here,” said Barbara O’Malley, a receptionist for Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore.
Many other employees braved the weather as well, despite having liberal leave.
“It was just a little rain, so I came on in,” said Pearl, a cashier at the snack shop in the cafeteria. “If it had been wind, it would’ve been something different. I can deal with rain.”
Joy, who works at the information desk near the north exit, said she came in because of loyalty. “We’re here. We’re always here. She and I will always be here,” Joy said, referring to a co-worker.
One tourist came to the Capitol building because of the hurricane.
“I figured here I could be inside all day,” said John Andrews from California. “This is probably one of the safest buildings to be in.”
Capitol Police officer M.R. Moore Jr. said he was not surprised that the rainy weather did not discourage tourists. “The tourists come all the way out here so they’re not going to want to sit around in their hotel rooms,” he said.
Al Smith, who drove down for the day after visiting relatives in New Jersey, said he did not know about Hurricane Floyd. He said he did not have a chance to watch the news this week.
“If I’d known about the hurricane, I wouldn’t have come,” he said with a laugh.
Pam Forster, a tourist from Oregon, didn’t know much about the storm either.
“We did seem to have the sidewalk to ourselves,” she said. “We figured it was because nobody else was stupid enough to come out.”
Chris Wetz, a visitor from Florida, was in the Capitol gift shop about 11 a.m. and said he planned to spend the rest of the day going to museums.
“We’re used to it,” he said. “It rains all the time in Florida. We don’t mind getting wet.”