After flooding, council declares local emergency

After flooding, council declares local emergency
A flooded garage from the July 8 storm. (Photo credit: Carole Goeas)

By Cody Mello-Klein |

In the wake of the July 8 storm that dumped a month’s worth of rain on the region in little more than an hour, city council voted unanimously to declare a local emergency during a special legislative meeting on Monday night.

A declaration of local emergency allows the city to pursue and potentially qualify for federal and state aid.

The decision follows two weeks of cleanup and recovery for the city, businesses and residents, as Alexandrians take stock of the damage left behind by an almost-record breaking amount of rain.

The rain started pouring throughout the DMV-area the morning of July 8, flooding roads, sweeping away walking trails, stranding commuters at Ronald Reagan National Airport and trapping drivers in vehicles.

(Flash flooding hits Alexandria, city continues to assess damage)

“What we had basically was three or four inches of water on land trying to find the lowest place, and once it got to the storm drains in the streets and they were full, it just went to the next lowest place,” City Manager Mark Jinks said during the legislative meeting.

All told, Alexandria received 3.3 inches of rain in around an hour, Jeff DuVal, deputy director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said. That number is just shy of a record high 3.42 inches of rain that fell in around an hour in Alexandria in 1936, DuVal said. Alexandria receives around 40 inches of rain per year, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm came and went in around an hour, but the volume and intensity of the rain resulted in significant damage to both city and residential property.

Alexandrians caught in the storm on July 8 faced intense flooding, as 3.3 inches of rain fell in about an hour. (Photo credit: Carole Goeas)

For the city, the DASH facility and Holmes Run Trail took the biggest beating. Rising waters hit the entire DASH facility at 3000 Business Center Dr., drowning eight lifts worth around $200,000 each. City staff will meet to work on a preliminary design and cost estimate for the facility for the 2021 capital improvement program, Jinks said.

The Holmes Run Trail, a partially paved biking and walking trail that runs from Cameron Run Regional Park to West Falls Church, was hit even harder.

“It was a great demonstration of how powerful water can be,” David Smith, a resident who witnessed the flood waters firsthand after walking down to the trail, said.

The flood waters washed trees and rocks downstream as they hit the riverway that runs through the trail, Smith said.

“When I went down there and saw the water, it was unbelievable how high it was and how fast it was going. It was like white water rapids,” Smith said. “A good kayaker probably could have made it all the down to the Potomac.”

While the city is treating some sections of the trail with temporary fixes, the entire section stretching from north of Van Dorn Street to the city limits will be closed for much longer.

“[It’s] washed out in places. The concrete and asphalt sections are literally missing,” DuVal said. “A lot of the protective and safety rails and fencing is missing. We’ve had to close that entire section of the trail.”

Flood damage to city property totals around $3.4 million, with insurance coverage for around $1.4 million, Jinks said during meeting. Damage to the Holmes Run Trail accounts for a large portion of the total.

Before waters washed out parts of the trail on July 8, the city had already requested a $1.5 million combined federal and state grant to repair the section of the trail north of Van Dorn Street, the section most significantly impacted by the storm, Jinks said. The storm caused an additional $500,000 in damage to the trail, DuVal said.

According to the city, damage to city infrastructure and city property at large was not as significant as might be expected from a storm of this intensity.

“[The storm system] did well,” DuVal said. “It’s not constructed for a storm of that size, so when I say ‘well,’ it was not able to handle the volume and intensity of rainfall during the storm. But afterwards, it drained things down, and we have done some inspection of the storm system, of pipes and outfalls and inlets and things like that and not found significant damage.”

Residents and businessowners are also wading through the aftermath of a storm that flooded basements and storefronts in addition to the city-owned trails and facilities.

While flooding in Old Town typically congregates along lower King Street and the waterfront, the July 8 flood wreaked more havoc on the upper King Street area.

The morning of the flooding, Carole Goeas’ neighbor pounded on her door, imploring her to look outside the window of her condominium, which sits at the corner of Prince Street and Daingerfield Road.

“You expected Noah to be coming down the street any minute,” Goeas said.

Goeas and her neighbors rushed around the condo complex, alerting their neighbors to the rising waters so that they could get their cars out of the building’s parking garage. Taking the elevator down to the garage, Goeas was alarmed at how high the water already was.

“We went down and the doors opened and water was rushing into our garage,” Goeas said. “[It was] not quite to your knees but close to it already.”

While many people in her building were able to get their cars out in time, some were not so lucky. One of Goeas’ neighbors was unable to get to the garage from across a flooded street, Goeas said. By the time he was able to cross the street, his vehicle had already been wrecked by the flood waters gushing into the garage.

“We had to wait for the water to go down,” Goeas said. “Then, the people who lost vehicles, it literally took them all week to get their insurance companies to send tow trucks.”

And the damage went beyond the two mud-streaked cars that had to be pulled out of the parking garage.

“Fortunately, nothing came into the first floor, but all our electrical stuff has got to be changed out,” Goeas said. “The gas for two of the units has to be changed out. The elevator was greatly impacted. That’s going to be a really expensive operation. We haven’t had an elevator for a week and a half.”

Courtesy photo

On July 10, the city put out a call to homeowners to report damages, in order to collect a preliminary damage estimate to residential property and seek federal and state funding, DuVal said.

Seventy-three homeowners reported minor damage, while 78 reported “affected damage,” which is more than minor but less than the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s definition of “significant.” Because damage to most properties was limited to basements and parking garages, no residential property has yet met that threshold.

Goeas and her neighbors have heard very little from the city beyond this survey, Goeas said.

“Part of the thing that’s frustrating for us is there’s a huge flood mitigation, storm drain management effort on the waterfront, but you look at the city website and there’s nothing mentioned for upper King Street,” Goeas said.

Meanwhile, businesses in Old Town, Del Ray and Arlandria are dealing with the financial fallout from the flooding.

“Starting the day after the flood, I’ve been putting in 14-hour days working with the remediation people,” Hooray for Books! owner Ellen Klein said. “It’s exhausting.”

During the storm, two-feet of standing water flooded into the children’s book store, which sits at the upper end of King Street.

The drywall and baseboards for most of the walls had to be redone and painted. Carpet and vinyl tiling had to be replaced. But the most crushing loss to the store was 338 books that had been collected to donate to the Campagna Center for its Scholastic Summer Read-a-Palooza.

However, like so many places in Alexandria after the flood, the community around Hooray for Books! rallied to support the bookstore. The store has now collected more than 2,000 books for the Campagna Center from loyal customers, publisher partners and even those outside Alexandria.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Klein said. “Somebody who is not even in our customer database sent a check. … It made me cry when I opened the envelope and saw the check. People have been very generous, kind and helpful.”

Despite the tremendous outpouring of community support, the store is still reeling from its nine-day closure after the flooding. In total, the store lost more than $10,000 in revenue during that time.

“Staff couldn’t work for nine days. The store lost income for nine days. That’s my focus now,” Klein said.

In order to make up for lost time and revenue, Hooray for Books! is putting on a Hip Hip Hooray fundraising event on July 31 with a silent auction featuring items from publishers and offerings from local businesses.

City leaders are also taking action to get financial relief for both the city and residents. While the city did not qualify for federal aid, Arlington did, which opens the door for Alexandria and all adjacent jurisdictions, Jinks said.

“Arlington County did qualify and therefore adjacent jurisdictions to the jurisdiction that qualifies also qualify,” Jinks said during the legislative meeting. “So homeowners will be eligible to meet with the [Small Business Administration]. They will have to go through and talk with the SBA in regards to the amount of damage and whether it qualifies under the rules to receive a loan.”

The city is also looking into the state’s eligibility program for aid. Residents who have been affected by sewer-related backup are eligible for up to $2,000 through the backup preventor program, DuVal said at the meeting.

Despite the city’s efforts, Goeas believes more can be done and said she hopes that this is an opportunity to bring Alexandria together for a common cause.

“We’re hoping everybody can pool our collective voices to communicate to the city, ‘You gotta do something,’” Goeas said.