Arlington, VA

(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Residents hit hard by floods across Arlington are worrying about how to pay the repair costs.

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz declared a state of emergency two days after Monday’s flash floods wrecked homes and destroyed businesses. The County Board now needs to approve the emergency declaration, which could pave the way for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aid.

For several residents in Westover, flood waters reached several feet high in their homes, destroying wood floors and appliances as well as cars and finished basements. Residents are still totaling the cost of the damages, but the majority said their homeowner’s insurance isn’t covering it — and most do not have flood insurance.

‘It happened very fast’

When ARLnow visited the Westover neighborhood Wednesday afternoon, mud still caked the pavement and friends and families were carrying out furniture to the county’s waiting trash truck.

“It happened very fast,” said neighbor Melinda Root. “I looked at my door and it was like looking at a weird aquarium.”

Root said at around 9 a.m. Monday, brown water rushed into the first floor of her house after rising outside, pouring up from the floorboards and in from the doors.

The inundation lasted about an hour, filling the basement to the ceiling and rising almost three feet on the first floor where it destroyed the carpet, kitchen appliances, as well as photographs and clothing. Outside, the water rose several feet high and flooded the engine of her car.

“The first thing I thought of was my cat,” Root said of her 13-year old friendly feline Chloe.

Root’s husband John DeMarce was at work when the storm hit, and was able to get Dominion Energy to cut the power to the house. When he arrived back in Westover, the floods had damaged thousands of dollars worth of tools in his woodworking shop in the basement and contaminated the carpet throughout the first floor.

“I’ve thrown away hundreds of books and CDs,” said DeMarce. Since then, he’s been ripping up the carpet himself and worries that the floor is now a mold risk, too.

He and his wife said they were very grateful to friends who are giving them a place to stay and are trying to clean 14 loads of laundry for them to save some of their clothes.

“We’re all in these same boat,’ said Root. “But that’s kind of a weird thing to say about a flood.”

Across the street, Athena Burkett, her husband Kenny Puk, and their friends were carrying away all her furniture to the curb after the water rose two feet inside her house and filled her basement.

Silt caked the hardwood floors in the first floor, and a light smell of sewage still pervades on Wednesday afternoon in the home even with the windows open and several fans running for days.

“It so much better than it was,” she said.

Burkett says she tried to come back to house Monday morning when she heard about the flooding but couldn’t drive through the river that filled her street.

“I stood right there up on that hill and watched as it happened,” she said of the top of the street.

The currents were so strong they lifted her shed and moved it almost two feet into her neighbor’s yard, half-crushing a floating chair that Kenny Puk jokes is now “the wicked witch of the west Adirondack chair” or “Excalibur.” Her family’s car is also totaled. A group of friends set up a cleaning shop in the backyard to salvage some metal shelves from the house.

Now plastic lines the second floor staircase inside the house to where she’s stored the few pieces of furniture that survived. The plastic is held down with neat stacks of books that with waterlogged covers. Storm water ruined the rest of her furniture, most of her appliances — and her wedding album.

“Yeah. I’m kind of in shock,” said Burkett, who’s only owned the house for two years.

Like Root and DeMarce, Burkett also lost her HVAC system, hot water heater, washer and dryer, and car to the floods. Both sets of neighbors said their homes are uninhabitable right now.

And as for homeowners insurance? “We’re getting nothing,” Burkett said.

“There were produce boxes from Westover Market in peoples’ front yards,” said another neighbor, Nicole Bender. “The path of the river cut across several yards and broke through fences along the way.”

Bender hadn’t seen anyone form the county checking on the clean-up efforts until Wednesday morning. “I don’t think they realized the level of damage,” she said.

Carpet scraps and personal effects lined 14th Street N. in Westover — one of the hardest-hit areas of the county — and for Wayne Blankenship, that includes her 30-year collection of hundreds of signed vinyl records. He spread racks of records on bed slats in his front yard under the hot sun, but Blankenship isn’t sure they’re salvageable.

He’s also worried about the hardwood on the first floor, which is starting to buckle after flood waters rose 6 inches in the home and filled his finished basement in “thirty seconds.” The rise was so forceful it exploded an egress window in the basement, and ripped two basement doors in half.

The power stayed on even though the circuit breaker was underwater, and Blankenship says he’s grateful that he didn’t get electrocuted when wading through the water. He’s also thankful for friends who’ve given them a place to stay and helped rip out drywall in the basement.

“There is humanity,” he laughs. “It does exist.”

Blankenship bought pumps from Home Depot to help his neighbors clear out their own floodwater. Others banded together to buy wagons full of food for each other or loan a hand with ripping out drywall.

Blankenship has lived on the street for 23 years with his husband Maxwell Tourgersen, with whom he recently celebrated his 35 anniversary. Together the two recently spent $30,000 renovating their basement.

“We just got the house the way we wanted it!” Blankenship lamented.

He estimates it will cost at least that, plus $18,000 for a new water heater and furnace, to do it again. Upstairs, he thinks it will cost $26,000 just to repair the kitchen. Like Beckett, he didn’t have flood insurance and his homeowner’s insurance isn’t paying a dime.

“This is going to be all out of pocket,” he said.

‘Too Early to Tell’

The Arlington County Fire Department responded to at least 25 swift water rescue calls on Monday as commuters were trapped on roads turned to rivers. All told, the floods caused an estimated $3.5 million in damage to county-owned infrastructure alone. Private donations have also poured in for Westover businesses swamped with stormwater.

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Morning Notes

Amazon and Local Real Estate — “Amazon has yet to break ground in Northern Virginia for its second headquarters, but residents are already turning away persistent speculators, recalculating budgets for down payments on homes and fighting rent increases.” [New York Times]

Low Young Adult Home Ownership — “Arlington ties with Richmond for the lowest home-ownership rate among young adults in the commonwealth, according to a new analysis… only 16 percent of young adults living in Arlington were homeowners – perhaps not surprising given the cost of real estate in the county.” [InsideNova]

HQ2 Helps Va. Rank as Top State for Business — “CNBC has named Virginia America’s ‘Top State for Business’ in 2019. CNBC unveiled Virginia as the top state for business [Wednesday] morning during a live broadcast from Shenandoah River State Park, and Governor Northam was on location to discuss the announcement.” [CNBC, Gov. Ralph Northam, Twitter, Arlington Economic Development, Washington Business Journal]

Amazon Information Meeting — Officials from Amazon and Arlington County discussed the company’s HQ2 plan and its approval process at a public meeting near Shirlington last night. [Twitter]

More on 5G in Arlington — “Arlington is preparing its commercial corridors for the next generation of mobile broadband technology — 5G. The impact? Mobile download speeds for movies, video games, apps and more up to 100 times faster than today.” [Arlington County]

County Seeking Volunteers for Disaster Drill — “The County is seeking volunteers to participate in Capital Fortitude, a full-scale emergency exercise designed to evaluate the National Capital Region’s ability to dispense medication quickly in response to an anthrax attack. From 10 a.m. to noon on Friday, July 19, Arlington will join 24 jurisdictions around the region in hosting a Point of Dispensing (POD) exercise.” [Arlington County]

Flood-Damaged Road Reopening — “Update [on] July 10… Crews expect to have one lane of 18th St N between N Lexington St and N McKinley Road reopen to traffic this evening. Repairs to the other lane set for completion tomorrow. 20th St N at George Mason is [reopened] with minor repairs still pending.” [Twitter]

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Update at 11:20 a.m. — Arlington County’s Solid Waste Bureau has issued the following statement about trash collection in the wake of Monday’s flooding. In it, the county apologizes for notices of “improper trash preparation” issued to flood-impacted residents “during this difficult time.”

The County continues to take special measures to assist residential curbside customers in trash collection efforts following this week’s damaging storm. We have identified areas that experienced extensive flooding and will have additional County trash collection trucks sent out daily to monitor these areas and collect items set on the curb. This will continue through Saturday, July 21 and will be extended if necessary. The County will also continue to monitor other areas and expand this service if necessary.

Trash collection by the County contractor will continue as scheduled throughout the week of July 8. If storm damage debris set out for bulk item collection isn’t picked up the day of your regular trash collection, it may take an additional 1-2 days for service given the extent of the event. You can also call the Customer Contact Call Center at 703-228-6570 to schedule a special pickup.

Some residents may have received an orange notice of improper trash preparation. We apologize if you received one during this difficult time. These are routinely issued by the County contractor to help residents properly prepare materials to allow for efficient and timely pickups and to ensure the safety of the crews.

For residential customers with storm-related debris, trash should be properly prepared for pickup on your designated collection day. For large and/or bulk household items, please follow these guidelines.

If residents have any questions, contact the Customer Contact Call Center at 703-228-6570 or learn more about residential services at recycling.arlingtonva.us/residential. Check out the online Where Does it Go? directory to learn how to properly dispose of specific types of items.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Earlier: Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz has declared a state of emergency in Arlington following Monday’s historic flash flooding.

The declaration, which is set to be formalized by the County Board on Saturday, is a first step to obtaining disaster relief funding for residents and businesses affected by the flash flood emergency. Across the county, cars were destroyed, homes were flooded and businesses inundated.

In a press release, below, the county says volunteers have been going door-to-door to conduct damage assessments, but residents and business owners are also encouraged to submit damage reports online.

County Manager Mark Schwartz signed a Declaration of Local Emergency for Arlington County, effective 8:30 a.m. on July 8, 2019, in response to the Flash Flood Emergency that saw torrential rain, dangerous public safety conditions and damage to private and public facilities.

“Following record setting rainfall and flash flooding on Monday, initial damage assessments have clearly shown the impact to residents and businesses in our community,” said Aaron Miller, Director of the Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management (PSCEM). “This emergency declaration is a key step in activating recovery assistance for our community. We continue to work closely with state and regional partners, including the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, on the process of determining our community’s eligibility for disaster assistance.”

The County Board will vote to formalize the emergency declaration at Saturday’s Regular Board Meeting, a step that positions the County to request reimbursement for storm-related costs through Virginia to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The emergency state remains in effect until rescinded. More information on how individuals and businesses might benefit from this designation will be detailed in a soon-to-come Declaration of Local Emergency FAQ.

As Arlington continues to work with state and local partners to assess damage, the County is asking those affected by Monday’s storm to submit a Damage Report form by Friday, July 12. While owners are responsible for repairs on their property, the County could use this data to pursue disaster aid, to the extent it is available.

Volunteers from the Arlington Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) and Team Rubicon have been trained and mobilized to go door-to-door to assist with damage assessments in the County.

In the meantime, those with immediate needs are encouraged to dial 2-1-1 or call the local American Red Cross. Only dial 9-1-1 for a life-threatening emergency.

Photo courtesy Nicole Bender

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(Updated at 4:55 p.m.) Arlington officials estimate that Monday’s flash flooding caused $3.5 million in damage to county infrastructure, particularly bridges in local parks.

As of last night, the an Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman said the department was aware of “at least six pedestrian bridges adjacent to the Four Mile Run stream and one storage building at Bon Air Park” which have been washed away.

Restrooms, playgrounds and picnic tables along local streams also sustained damage and “a few community centers experienced minor to moderate flooding,” though the community centers all remained open with “no major operational impacts,” we’re told.

The parks department damage assessment was updated Tuesday late afternoon to include the following:

  • Six pedestrian bridges adjacent to the Four Mile Run stream — one at Bon Air Park, two at Lubber Run Park, two at Glencarlyn Park and one at Gulf Branch Nature Center — were destroyed. Additionally, a bridge near the Glencarlyn Dog Park and one at Holmberg Park were damaged
  • The following picnic shelters are closed through Friday (July 12): Bluemont Park, Bon Air Park, Glencarlyn Park
  • Playgrounds at numerous parks lost safety surface in the flooding; as a result, Glencarlyn Park playground remains closed until further notice
  • A storage building at Bon Air Park was destroyed
  • James Hunter Dog Park [near Shirlington] experienced flooding and DPR is evaluating the fountain
  • The County’s Trails saw debris and dirt; Four Mile Run Trail suffered some asphalt damage

“The Department of Parks and Recreation is working to make our areas safe and operational as soon as possible after Arlington’s parks saw considerable damage on Monday,” said spokeswoman Martha Holland. “DPR is still working on gathering damage assessments from the storm, and some facilities may be closed as cleaning and repairs begin.”

Photos and video also shows damage along Lubber Run, near the amphitheater. A torrent of muddy water can be seen rushing through the park; pedestrian bridges were washed away, though the amphitheater itself was spared.

Foot bridges along even tiny babbling brooks were no match for raging floodwaters. One such wooden bridge connecting Chesterbrook Road and N. Vermont Street in the Old Glebe neighborhood was washed off its foundation and blocked off by caution tape this morning.

A couple of Arlington libraries were also impacted.

“The auditorium at Central Library sustained water damage and all programs are canceled this week,” Arlington Public Library spokesman Henrik Sundqvist told ARLnow. “Central Library opened up on schedule today.”

“Cherrydale Branch Library closed early yesterday due to flooding and power outages,” Sundqvist added. “We expect to open on time today.”

Arlington County has closed two roads that suffered damage to the road surface as a result of the flooding: until repairs can be made, 18th Street N. is closed between N. Lexington and McKinley streets, while 20th Street N. is closed at George Mason Drive.

“There’s no other significant damage to facilities at this time, but assessments are ongoing,” said county spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith.

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Arlington County is planning to test residents on how they might survive and take care of their families after a natural disaster — using bicycles.

Arlington’s second “Disaster Relief Trials” will simulate traversing the county by bike after a disaster wipes out crucial infrastructure. Participants on bicycles will compete for points by ferrying messages and medicine between checkpoints, filtering water, applying a tourniquet, and evacuating (fake) pets.

This year’s competition will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 14 and will start and end at Gateway Park (1300 Lee Highway) in Rosslyn.

“2018 was the costliest year on record for the US in terms of disasters,” the event page notes. “When roads became gridlocked or damaged during disasters, people turned to their bicycles to flee from danger, assist in the response, or to return to normal.”

Along the way, cyclists will have to cross high barriers that simulate downed trees over paths, dismount for rough terrain, and brave areas flooded up to 6 inches.

Despite the event helping the county’s emergency preparedness, participation requires paying a fee. Participants can register online for $90 for families until Aug. 11, after which the group price will jump to $125. Individuals can register for $40 until Aug. 11, and $55 after. Discounts are available for those receiving certain types of government assistance.

Participants are required to bring their own bikes, helmets, water bottles, and any racks, panniers, or backpacks they’d like to use. Cargo bikes with electric assists are allowed in the competition.

Disaster Relief Trials have been held for years in Portland and San Francisco.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Holds Disaster Drill for Cyclists — “On Saturday BikeArlington and the Office of Emergency Management held the county’s first Disaster Relief Trial, modeled after such events in Oregon, Washington, and California… 70 registered families, teams, and individual bikers traveled throughout Arlington, stopping at four checkpoints and completing eight challenges.” [Local DVM]

Marymount Launches Internship Fund — “Marymount University has announced plans to financially support students who intern at non-profit organizations that do not have the resources to pay them. The new ‘Sister Majella Berg Internship Fund’ is a way to solidify partnerships between the university and local safety-net organizations, new Marymount University president Irma Becerra said.” [InsideNova]

AT&T Donates $30K to Local Nonprofit — “Bridges to Independence announced today a new contribution from AT&T. A private, nonprofit organization, Bridges is dedicated to serving families experiencing homelessness in the City of Alexandria and Arlington County, VA. AT&T’s support will directly benefit Bridges’ mission by expanding the organization’s Youth Development Program which serves children experiencing homelessness.” [Press Release]

Ballston Apartment Building Sold — “The Chevy Chase Land Company… announced today the $90 million acquisition of 672 Flats, a 173-Unit Class A apartment building in the heart of Ballston.” [Press Release]

Flickr pool photo by Brian Irwin

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One year after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, the Friends of the Arlington Public Library is donating $5,369 to help rebuild a damaged library on the island.

The Águedo Mojica Marrero Library at the University of Puerto Rico is still in rough shape, located in one of the hardest hit areas on Puerto Rico’s eastern coast. The building and the collections inside were both damaged by the storm.

According to Henrik Sundqvist, communications officer the Arlington Public Library, the Friends of the Arlington Public Library donates $1 to a charitable organization for each person who completes the summer reading program. This year, a total of $5,354 Arlingtonians completed the program, 700 more than last year, with an additional $15.17 from unsolicited cash donations from Arlington kids.

Additionally, the library will be hosting a free panel discussion about Puerto Rico, moderated by Michelle Fernandez, a librarian and University of Puerto Rico graduate.

The event will be held next Thursday (Sept. 20) from 7-9 p.m. in the Central Library (1015 North Quincy Street).

Photos contributed by Friends of the Arlington Public Library

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When disaster strikes, roads are often one of the first necessities hit. Gridlock or damage to streets can make them impassible for cars.

And on Sept. 29, the county will host “Disaster Relief Trials” to simulate just such an emergency in Arlington. Participants will need to climb onto their bikes and travel across the county carrying food, water, medical supplies and messages to those in need. To do so, they will need to navigate without a GPS and traverse simulated dangerous terrain.

The challenge starts and ends at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, from which participants will ride out to various checkpoints and be forced to overcome an obstacle. This could be a physical barrier like a downed tree or something like high water at least 15 cm deep.

Additional challenges include delivery of a message, successfully using a fire extinguisher, and wound packing. Points are awarded based on weight of supplies transported and emergency preparedness challenges completed. The top three finalists in each category will be awarded prizes.

Registration costs for the event varies based on category.

  • Responder I (Individuals, traditional bicycles) – Single Adult on standard bike, including bike racks, panniers, body packs, etc. Registration costs $40.
  • Responder II (Individuals, cargo bicycle, and/or trailer) – Single Adult on cargo bike (front bucket or longtail), or standard bike with trailer. Registration costs $40.
  • Family Responders (1-2 Adults, 1-4 children under age 14, any style of bikes) – Up to 2 adults and between 1-4 children under the age of 14, any style of bikes. Registration costs $75.
  • Team Responders (2-3 Adults, any/all bike types) – Teams of 2-3 adults, any/all bike types. Registration costs $75.
  • Citizen (Individual) – Single Adult with no cargo or checkpoint requirement; complete as many Emergency Preparedness Challenges as you want; non-competitive. Registration costs $10.

With a focus on bicycling through disaster zones, GPS systems and electronic assist bicycles are not allowed (or batteries for e-bikes removed). Registration is available online.

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Morning Notes

Work Begins to Replace Collapsed Pipe — A collapsed 18-inch stormwater pipe is being replaced on Arlington Ridge. The work is necessitating a detour for Arlington Ridge Road traffic between 23rd Street and S. Glebe Road. The stretch has been the site of numerous water main issues over the past few years. [Twitter]

Big Turnout for Caps Sendoff — Thousands of fans reportedly flocked to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston on Saturday to give the Caps a Stanley Cup sendoff as they traveled to Las Vegas for Game 1 of the finals. [WUSA 9]

Manager Warns Against Additional Debt — “[Don’t] do it. That’s Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz’s advice to County Board members, urging them to resist any temptation to disregard the government’s self-imposed, and for the most part sacrosanct, debt guidelines. The guidelines, long in place to help the county government retain AAA bond ratings, call for the cost of servicing municipal debt to remain less than 10 percent of the total overall county-government budget in any given year.” [InsideNova]

ACFD Lends a Hand in Ellicott City — Arlington County Fire Department units are helping out the flood recovery efforts in Ellicott City, Md. The catastrophic flooding in Ellicott City over the weekend prompted a regional disaster aid response. [Twitter]

DJO Wins State Softball Crown — The Bishop O’Connell Knights girls high school softball team won the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I tournament last week, capturing the state championship title for the seventh year in a row. [InsideNova]

Photo courtesy @thelastfc

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Morning Notes

ACPD Helping Out in Puerto Rico — Arlington County Police officers are on the ground in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, directing traffic at critical intersections in areas without power. The officers were sent there as part of a national disaster mutual aid agreement. Local residents, meanwhile, have been expressing their appreciation for ACPD’s presence. [Twitter, Twitter, Twitter]

Blind Triplets Utilizing New Tech — The blind triplets who recently made history by all becoming Eagle Scouts are also among the early users of new Aira glasses. The technology, launched in April, uses camera-equipped glasses to allow a remote agent to narrate what they see in real time, thus providing additional autonomy for the wearer. [Washington Post]

School Board Members Ditch Ties — At Tuesday’s Arlington School Board meeting, the two male members of the Board “committed sartorial faux pas,” in the words of the Sun Gazette, by not wearing ties. [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Chris Guyton

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Twelve officers from the Arlington County Police Department will be deployed to Puerto Rico to help the island recover from Hurricane Maria.

The officers will deploy in three staggered teams from tomorrow (Friday, November 10) until December 18. The teams will spend 16 days each in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico requested assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which is the national emergency management mutual aid system that facilitates state-to-state disaster assistance.

“I am proud that our officers are willing to dedicate their time to provide the citizens of Puerto Rico with an added sense of security in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” Police Chief Jay Farr said in a statement. “Our officers take an oath to serve and protect and their willingness to deploy shows their commitment and dedication, not just to the Arlington County community, but to citizens everywhere.”

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