As Hurricane Storm Isabel made its push into Northern Virginia Thursday, Loudoun officials were on the ready.
They set up three emergency shelters and increased public safety forces to handle downed traffic signals and trees and tree limbs fallen onto power lines. The culprit: winds and rains that blew through the county as the storm's force began to subside with its movement inland.
"We were very fortunate the situation wasn't as bad as it could have been in the county," said Mary Maguire, public information officer for the Department of Fire and Rescue Services. "Loudoun didn't get hit as hard as some of the other areas."
The county began storm preparations early last week, opening the Emergency Operations Center at 12 p.m. Thursday and keeping it open through Friday afternoon. The center brought together county departments and agencies and emergency service providers to coordinate resources from one location. Law enforcement agencies, the Department of Fire and Rescue, the Department of Health, the Department of Purchasing, the Loudoun County Chapter of the American Red Cross and amateur radio groups, which provide a backup communication source, staffed the center, along with a list of other agencies and departments.
THE AMERICAN Red Cross coordinated opening three emergency shelters at Dominion, Heritage and Loudoun Valley high schools with a total capacity to serve 1,500 people. Thirteen people showed up at the Heritage shelter in Leesburg, including a family of five that spent the night on Thursday. The Loudoun Valley shelter closed on Friday after the power went out in the building Thursday night. The other two shelters closed at 5 p.m. later that day.
Public safety agencies increased staffing and responded to an increased number of calls on Thursday and Friday. The Department of Fire and Rescue Services ran 211 calls through 4 p.m. on Friday, with most of the calls, a total of 41, from 12-3 a.m. on Friday, compared to 90 calls on Wednesday. Most of the calls concerned downed trees and power lines. Downed trees damaged three homes in Cascades, Bluemont and Neersville to the point of being inhabitable, Maguire said.
The Sheriff's Office implemented a hurricane operational plan, adding 20 deputies per shift beginning at 12 p.m. Thursday to respond to an increased call volume. The office handled 98 traffic complaints from 4 p.m. on Thursday to 9 a.m. on Friday, most of them involving downed trees and branches across roadways on secondary roads.
A tree 12 inches in diameter fell across the southbound lane of Route 15 near Oatlands Road south of Leesburg, as reported at 6:39 p.m. Thursday. Another tree fell on an unoccupied van on Maple Avenue in Sterling Park, as reported at 8 a.m. on Friday.
SHERIFF'S OFFICE deputies provided traffic control while the state Department of Transportation removed the trees and tree limbs and Dominion Virginia Power handled downed power lines. The deputies also worked at intersections with malfunctioning or blacked out traffic signals. At one point, they responded to 10 traffic signals that were out most of the day on Friday, including the signals at Route 28 and Waxpool Road, Sterling Boulevard and Church Road, Route 7 and Potomac View Road, and Palisades and Cascades parkways.
"We prepared for the worst-case scenario and hoped for the best," said Kraig Troxell, public information officer for the Sheriff's Office.
In Loudoun, 10,800 residents served by Dominion Virginia Power were without power during the storm, the outages caused by limbs and trees fallen onto power lines and by damaged utility poles and cross bars. As of 5 p.m. on Monday, 1,562 of the residents still remained without power. In Virginia and North Carolina, Dominion's service area, 1.8 million people were without power, with 742,000 still needing power restored as of Monday.
"This is the most devastating event we've had in our history," said Bob Fulton, Dominion spokesperson. "The damage to our system because of Isabel is quite extensive."
Before the storm hit, Dominion stocked additional repair materials and added 10,000 crews on standby, including contractors and other utility employees. In Northern Virginia, Dominion staffed 500 crews, or 1,100 people, during the storm response.
ON FRIDAY, the Loudoun County Sanitation Authority (LCSA) issued a boil water alert following the loss of pressure in the Fairfax County Water Authority's (FCWA) system, one of LCSA's water suppliers. A water treatment plant in Fairfax County lost power and the FCWA's water reserves became depleted, potentially compromising water quality.
The FCWA and LCSA conducted quality tests Saturday and Sunday on water samples, sending them to a laboratory to test for bacterial growth. The loss of pressure can cause insufficient levels of disinfectant, which keeps the water clean as it flows through the distribution system. The state Department of Health verified the samples, which showed no contamination in the water. LCSA lifted the boil water alert at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
"We wanted to err on the side of safety. We did that as a precaution," said Samantha Villegas, communications manager for LCSA, adding, "The reports out there that people need to flush their faucets in their homes does not apply to Loudoun County residents. It actually doesn't apply to Fairfax County. It was something that was put out by Alexandria."
South Riding faced a shortage in water supply on Friday. In response, the Department of Purchasing provided the community with tankers of potable water. The Department of Health issued a statement, recommending that food establishments without customary water levels remain closed or use potable bottled or other temporary water. The recommendation was lifted on Sunday.
Broad Run Farm, which is located in an area prone to flooding, was put under a flood warning during the storm. Fire and rescue personnel warned residents Wednesday of the potential, along with residents living on Lime Kiln Road and in low-lying areas in Leesburg.
"We were very, very fortunate," Maguire said. "The water receded quickly, and they didn't have any significant issues over the weekend."
THE STORM slowed down the agricultural industry in western Loudoun, bringing additional moisture and winds that blew in debris and tore apart fences and trees.
"The storm did cause some interference with all phases of agriculture," said Corey Childs, director of extension services for the Loudoun Cooperative Extension. "When they [farmers] have to stop to deal with road repairs, fence repairs and wait for the ground to dry, it puts them behind a few days."
Even so, Childs considers the industry to be "lucky." "The situation actually is the best-case scenario, meaning we had minimal damage and things are going to resume fairly quickly," he said.
The public schools closed Thursday and Friday following a metro conference call among area school districts and public safety and government agencies. Ten of the county's 61 schools lost power Thursday night that was later restored. The public schools resumed classes on Monday.
"Mainly it was better safe than sorry," said Wayde Byard, school press officer.