Signs of Progress

Signs of Progress

Long, slow work continues.

The last time Mark Borucke slept in his own condo was on Friday, September 19. If he's lucky, he'll get to sleep there again before Christmas. Borucke is one of 17 owners or renters who occupied a Belle View Condominium J-unit. During Hurricane Isabel, the units were filled with water and will have to be completely restored.

On the morning of September 19, Borucke said that he woke up around 3 a.m. to the sound of rushing water.

"It was a distinctive sound, like nothing I ever heard before," he said.

It turned out to be water in the window well outside his basement unit.

"I didn't know how deep it was at that time. There was no water coming inside yet, but it looked threatening, so I started getting dressed," said Borucke.

Thirty seconds later, he said water started trickling in and one of the windows burst open. "If I had any doubts about leaving, they were then taken care of," said Borucke, who started putting together some things in a bag and trying to find his cats. He couldn't find the cat carrier for his two cats, so he just carried them upstairs to his neighbor's unit. Before he left, another window had burst open, and he was ankle deep in water.

Borucke spent the rest of the evening upstairs and when he went downstairs to look at his unit the next day, there was two feet of water in front of the door. With water a foot from the ceiling in his unit, it was inaccessible and just about everything he owned was destroyed. He wasn't even able to open the door until late Saturday, by which time the water had vanished.

"I didn't know what to expect when I opened the door. I didn't know if water would come rushing out like in the cartoons," said Borucke.

IT DID NOT COME rushing out, but what he found was a soggy mess. There was very little that could be salvaged. He left most of it behind for the cleaning crew to clear; a service provided by the association. One of the areas that remained dry was the top of his desk; it appeared that it had floated upright when the water rose and then came back down. The paper in the printer was still dry; unfortunately his laptop was not. Borucke was able to at least salvage his bills and other papers.

LIKE MANY OTHERS, Borucke had decided not to evacuate the night of the hurricane. He had talked about the evacuation request with his neighbors and decided not to leave. He had packed a small bag, but hadn't done much else to prepare. As he started getting ready to leave he thought about what he should take with him. Afterwards, he realized that he hadn't even taken his cell phone with him. There just wasn't enough time.

Borucke has been staying at his parents' house in Maryland. It isn't ideal, but it's a place to stay. He would like to find another place to stay, but the $984 rental allowance given to him by FEMA does not cover the cost of a rented apartment in this area, which can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000 a month. He is thankful for the assistance, but is still having trouble making ends meet. He was told that his unit will not be inhabitable again until November or December.

His troubles are compounded by the fact that he is out of work. He's in the military reserves and was just released off active duty. He had been putting his resume together and will continue to do so; it will just be harder now that he has no income and has to buy new clothes, a new computer and a new car.

"I'm glad that my faith was strong enough to get me through this," said Borucke. "If it wasn't for that, I might be angry and discouraged, but I feel pretty positive. My faith has kept me well grounded."

He's also thankful for the help and support of members of his church, Capitol Life in Alexandria. He said that many of them came out to help not only him, but other people in Belle Haven as well.

HELPING CONTINUES to be the name of the game. Ken Disselkoen, regional manager for human services in Region One, said that the community is really looking after its own.

"One of the things that has been wonderful in this community is that the people who were in a position to help really did. It was really nice the way they partnered with the county; it made our job easier."

Now that the command center has disbanded from the Mount Vernon RECenter, Disselkoen said that the representatives from the Department of Family Services, Department of Mental Health and Project Resiliency that were in the neighborhood and command center have moved back to the South County Government Center. People who still need help can go there for services.

The agencies continue to monitor people who they think might be in need of assistance. One of the things that helped the agencies was the people in New Alexandria who walked the streets, checking on neighbors and then notifying Disselkoen and his staff about people in need. One woman brought Disselkoen a daily list and another woman was so concerned about a neighbor that she called long-distance after going on a trip to make sure that her neighbor was cared for.

"We continue to have a presence in the neighborhood," said Disselkoen. "We have a matrix of people who need help, and have staff assigned to them. It's a fluid situation. At first people are in shock and are initially resilient. Later the magnitude of it all hits them."

One of the ways that Project Resiliency is helping out with the emotional aspect is by hosting support group meetings. Held at the Messiah Lutheran Church on 6510 Fort Hunt Road on Wednesday evenings at 7:30, the meetings are designed to provide emotional support and help people deal with what they have lost.

"It's a long-term process, everybody reacts differently when they're stressed," said Disselkoen. He's glad to see that the county's disaster planning worked so well.

"I think our disaster planning is in much better shape since Y2K, and then it was beefed up since 9-11. Before all that, it wouldn't have been in place. It's good to see how well the agencies worked together," he said.

ALTHOUGH MOUNT VERNON RECenter no longer serves as a command center, the facility continues to help the residents by providing free hot showers. Trina Taylor, who manages the center, said that they continue to see about 60 people a day still taking advantage of the showers. To date, they've had more than 500 visits.

"People are really appreciative," said Taylor. "It's one way of supporting our customers [and others]."

Taylor first became involved in the recovery efforts when she received a call from her supervisor the afternoon of September 18. The center had closed earlier, but she was asked if she could get somebody over there. She called and coordinated getting somebody over there; for the next 10 days or so, they maintained the facility 24 hours a day.

"At the first meeting, [Supervisor] Gerry Hyland was really concerned about people having showers and wanted 24-hour access," she said. It was later thought that people would be charged $1.50 for showers, but that was incorrect information; the center will continue to provide Belle View and New Alexandria residents with hot showers at no charge indefinitely.

Taylor said that having the command center there was not invasive, even though they took over most of the phones and used the club rooms.

"We were happy to help. It was very gratifying and made me proud to be a county employee. The police and firemen were wonderful; we developed a good rapport," she said.

One nice side effect of having so many officials onsite came on September 26. The center was having seven bands play at its weekly Teen Rock & Blade for the first time. Taylor said that more than 400 children attended and that the police and fire mobile units set a good tone.

AROUND THE NEIGHBORHOODS other than Belle View and New Alexandria, there are still small reminders that a major storm blew through here a few weeks ago. Many curbs are still piled high with brush. While trash and recycling have been picked up on schedule, the county's solid waste department is still behind on their brush pickup. A recorded message on the solid waste number says that county crews will be collecting brush this week, neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street. They said that they are ignoring prior scheduled brush pickups, but advise that if a brush pile is still at the curb on October 14, that residents should call 703-802-3322, to schedule a pickup. There may still be delays with bulk pickup and bagged and canned brush.

Dominion Virginia Power trucks are around, but they are now handling routine maintenance calls. One truck was in Waynewood this week to connect a new electrical box for a resident; the call had originally been scheduled for September 18, but was postponed until this week.

Power representatives Joe Brassell and Mike Barrigan said that they had been working 18-20 hour days since September 19th.

"They told us to pack a bag for 5-10 days," said Brassell, although both he and Barrigan managed to make it home each night for a few hours of sleep. "I missed two Redskins games," he said.

"Most people really appreciated what we were doing. Maybe one in 60 complained," said Barrigan. "Many places gave us free food. When we walked into Damon's [Grill], everybody clapped."

Brassell and Barrigan said that they still see a few cables ripped off houses and trees on lines, but for the most part, the repair work is completed.

Signs of the storm are still very much in evidence on the streets of Belle View and New Alexandria and continue to bustle with the activity of plumbers, electricians, carpenters and demolition crews. Very visible are the men who comprise the maintenance crew of Belle View Condominiums.

Kenney Nowlin has worked for Belle View almost 13 years and now serves as maintenance director. His days are normally spent taking care of the common areas, painting, repairing and replacing items covered by the association. He and his crew also provide end-unit services such as plumbing and electrical work to residents at a reduced rate.

The past three weeks have been spent dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane. They have been assessing damage to the buildings, and most recently they‚ve been working with representatives from the gas company to get gas turned back on.

"After this week, we'll regroup and determine what we have to next," said Nowlin. "Our own shop was destroyed, so we need to assess the damage."

OVER AT BELLE VIEW Shopping Center, Kevin Green is optimistic. As owner of Virginia Florist and president of the merchant's association, he wants people to know that all the businesses [except Dishes of India] are back in business.

"Systems are back up and operating, there is no danger here," said Green, who took a hit the first week because people just weren't coming to Belle View to shop. He and some of the other merchants also lost thousands of dollars of merchandise in their flooded basements.

Green and other merchants were upset that nobody from the county came to warn the merchants. "They told the residents, but never came to warn us," said Green. "It bothers me that they didn't call us."

Green said that he and other store owners put things on 4-inch pallets, but that wasn't enough to protect the items from the 4-5 feet of water the basements sustained. Green said that most of his Halloween merchandise was ruined, as well as some of his Christmas stock. It's too late to re-order for Halloween, but he will replenish his Christmas merchandise. He is glad to see that business is coming back. As far as he knows, nobody had flood insurance.

"We took a hit, and we're not getting any compensation from insurance," he said.

To celebrate their survival, the shopping center is holding a hurricane sale on Saturday, October 25. Green will be selling some damaged items (Isabel Battered Bargains), but will mostly be discounting new merchandise. Spokes will be selling many of the bicycles that were in their basement.

Green said that he is appreciative of the work that has been provided by Barco, an environmental clean-up firm provided by the landlord.

"They are doing full environmental remediation, including pumping out water, tearing out structures, cleaning goods and disinfecting," said Green.

Harry Sherman, owner of Brenner's Bakery, is also thankful for what Barco and landlord is doing.

"There have been so many helpful things done. It's very impressive; I've never seen anybody work like that," said Sherman, who is storing some of his salvageable items in a storage truck provided by the landlord.

"I'm astounded at how well everybody's bouncing back," said Green. "It just would have been nice to have some warning."

Hurricane Sale will be held at Belle View Shopping Center on Saturday, Oct. 25, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 703-765-3355.