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Prolonged Agony

Isabel's aftermath leaves wake of destruction, frustration and bills.

Alexandria will hold a Goodbye Isabel party Saturday to show that Old Town is open for business, but many residents may still not be ready to celebrate.

Wednesday morning, nearly a week after Hurricane Isabel came calling, houses along Old Dominion Boulevard and Cameron Mills are still dark. “Some people along Old Dominion got power back yesterday [Monday], refilled their refrigerators with food and lost power again,” said Lillian Siegel, a resident of the neighborhood.

Siegel, who got power back on Sunday night, was philosophical. “Considering just how bad things could have been, we were very lucky,” she said.

“I stopped by Monticello Park just to say thank-you to the utility crew from North Carolina that has been working in our neighborhood. I’m going to take them some doughnuts and something to drink because I don’t think they hear from enough people who really are thankful,” she said. The crew works for Pike Power of Mount Airy, N.C.

The Beverley Hills neighborhood did not have to deal with flooding, but there are downed trees and power lines throughout the area. “One car was completely smashed,” Siegel said. That car, a Chevy Blazer, sits on Chalfonte, with the tree that did the damage next to it.

“No one was seriously injured, we had no major fires and most of the businesses that were damaged by Isabel are reopened,” said City Manager Philip G. Sunderland, who gave a report on Isabel to City Council Tuesday night.

“The main problem for residents was problems with utilities,” Sunderland said. “We had extensive power outages, loss of water pressure and a boil-water order.”

Dominion Virginia Power tracks numbers by grids. Alexandria is included with Arlington, Falls Church and a small piece of McLean. In that grid, the company has 168,000 customers. At the height of the storm on Thursday night, 105,000 of those customers were without power.

“That’s about 62 percent of the customers in that grid,” Sunderland said. “As of Tuesday evening, there are about 25,000 people in that area without power, or about 9 percent of the total customers served. We expect power to be restored to the Beverley Hills and Van Dorn areas by Thursday evening [Sept. 25].”

AS FOR WATER, the problem occurred when the Fairfax County facility that purifies the city’s water supply lost power. This resulted in a loss of water pressure in some areas and the order to boil all water before using it.

“Because of the boil-water order, all restaurants in the city had to be reinspected by the Health Department,” Sunderland said. “We had crews working throughout the weekend to get this accomplished as quickly as possible.”

Downed trees were also an issue. “We lost about 272 trees,” Sunderland said. “Considering that we have about 17,000 street trees, that’s not bad.”

When trees are down on private property, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to have them removed. “We do not have a hydraulic lift to get large trees into a truck to haul away,” said Richard Baier, the city’s director of Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES). “We need people to cut the trees into pieces of 4 feet in length, weighing no more than 75 pounds. If they take those to the curb, we will pick them up and haul them away. Otherwise, we will red-tag them and talk to the homeowner to see what the difficulty in dealing with the tree is and how we can help resolve the problem.

"In some instances, we can refer the homeowner to a private contractor, and if the homeowner simply doesn’t have the financial resources, we can work with Rose Boyd in Citizen Assistance to make some arrangement.”

DOWNED TREES were also a problem in the city’s parks. “We are clearing debris as quickly as we can and are working closely with T&ES to do so,” said Sandra Whitmore, the director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Activities. “There is a lot of debris in our waterfront parks, and we have crews cleaning those parks. We have heard about the possibility of medical waste washing ashore at Windmill Hill but haven’t seen any. We urge the public not to touch this stuff and to leave it for our crews.

“We need people to let us know if there is a tree that doesn’t look like it is going to survive somewhere in their neighborhood. We have a lot of trees in the city and need help in identifying those that may not survive because of damage,” she said.

Flooding was a problem in Old Town. “We had about 60 properties that were damaged along lower King Street, on Union Street and the Strand,” Sunderland said. “There were an additional 20 to 30 properties that sustained damage in other parts of the city.

“Areas that have flooded in the past, however, did not. I visited Four Mile Run, Cameron Run and Holmes Run early Friday morning, and they were full but did not flood. We really did not get as much rain as we had thought we might, and the winds were not as strong,” he said.

NATIONAL AIRPORT reported 2.3 inches of rainfall from Isabel, and the strongest wind gust at 58 miles per hour. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd brought 18 inches of rain and wind gusts of 45 miles per hour. In 1953, Hurricane Hazel produced wind gusts of 99 miles per hour and more than 10 inches of rain.

“Most of the businesses in Old Town that were damaged have reopened and are being reinspected today and tomorrow,” said Art Dahlberg, chief code-enforcement officer. “While there was damage, there was not enough structural damage to warrant closing them. The new Starbucks at the corner of King and Union streets had a lot of damage, including losing nearly all of their equipment. It will be some time before they are able to reopen," Dahlberg said.

“Chadwick’s is being inspected today [Tuesday], so I think they are close [to reopening], and the Fish Market lost some equipment, but I think they are open or will reopen soon,” he said.

ONLY TWO PROPERTIES in the city, two homes on Virginia Avenue and Juniper Street, sustained sufficient structural damage to be deemed uninhabitable. “We had two residential properties in this category,” Dahlberg said. “Trees fell on both of them and caused structural damage that forced us to declare all or parts of the homes uninhabitable.”

“In general, I give us a grade of B-plus in handling Isabel,” said Sunderland. “We rolled every city number that takes citizen calls into 838-4800 and staffed it 24 hours a day from Wednesday morning on. That number was answered by a live person throughout the crisis.

"Also, we communicated with folks through our 'e-News You Can Use' Web site and through press updates to the media. We are establishing a team of staff to analyze what went well and what did not, and we are going to report back to Council.”

“I am very pleased that most residents heeded our warnings,” said Mayor William D. Euille. “We had several days’ notice, and, generally speaking, people prepared. The city staff is to be commended for their efforts.”

There was a bit of good news from Isabel. “We had not even one sewer back up,” Sunderland said.

Staff are still assessing damage to the city’s marina. “We know that we have lost at least one boat slip,” Sunderland said. “There may be structural damage to the marina. We know that the power there took a beating, and we are going to have a structural engineer assess it for us over the next few days.”

IN THE WEST End, people were without power as well. Landmark Mall was closed on Friday, and many merchants were still getting back to normal this week. Many condo units and apartment buildings around Landmark were still without power this week.

But things weren’t so bad, said Joe Bennett, Cameron Station Civic Association president. “I expected it to be a whole lot worse,” he said. “Our lights blinked several times, but we never really lost power.

“I know that there was some water in people’s houses, but I think that was because of poor construction and not necessarily because of the storm. I haven’t heard of any reports of large trees down in our neighborhood. Really, we did very well,” he said.

Del. Brian Moran (D-46th) was without power from Thursday until Sunday night. He has two small children. “Luckily, we never lost water,” Moran said. “We spent a lot of time at friends’ houses, read a lot of books and went to bed early.”

Moran toured Old Town with Gov. Mark Warner (D) on Sunday. “We are seeing this type of devastation in two-thirds of the commonwealth,” Warner said. “We are going to do all we can to see that things are back to normal as soon as possible.”

Loans are available for homeowners and business owners through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“There are a couple types of loans,” said Bill Reagan, director of the Small Business Development Center, the liaison between the city and FEMA. “First, there are the loans to repair physical damage that was caused by the storm. Then there are the Economic Injury Disaster loans. We have given businesses information about these loans and are happy to help in any way that we can.”

U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-8) said he is also prepared to help. Moran has set up a Web site where people can go for help. That Web site is www.isabelrecovery.org. People can also call his district office at 703-971-4700.

The Small Business Development Center's phone number is 703-549-1000.

The city Web site also contains information about obtaining disaster relief. That Web site is www.ci.alexandria.va.us.