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Sandbags Were Like Gold

Staff and the Sheriff’s Department were called to maintain order.

While City Council got an update Tuesday on the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel from City Manager Phil Sunderland, residents in Alexandria are still talking about those sandbags.

The city assembled just over 11,000 sandbags and distributed them at three sites in the city, beginning Wednesday afternoon, the day before Isabel arrived.

“There was a traffic jam, in terms of vehicles and people standing in line at Fairfax and King streets,” said Barbara Gordon, the city’s public information officer.

The city allowed individuals and business owners to take up to five sandbags each. “This was the number that we thought would be appropriate for the most people and also was the number that most people could fit into the trunk of their car,” Gordon said.

People were required to furnish a photo ID, proving that they lived or owned a business in the city. People became very upset at this requirement, and staff from code enforcement and the Sheriff’s Department were called to maintain order.

Two residents of Harbor Side, a luxury development on the Potomac with private boat slips, decided that they needed more sand and drove their trucks into Windmill Hill Park and removed sand from the volleyball court. City staff stopped this practice.

"In the past, these folks have been accused of thinking of Windmill Hill Park as their backyard," said Judy Noritake, chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission. "However, swiping sand from a public volleyball court still sounds like stealing to me. What's next? Do they need a picnic table?"

A check on local retailers, Home Depot and Lowes, showed that they both had sand available for purchase before and during the storm.

“We need to look at our policy regarding sandbags,” Sunderland said. “Some jurisdictions have bags and sand available, and people can come and fill their own. Some jurisdictions don’t do anything. Personally, if we are going to do anything, I believe making sand and bags available is the most appropriate. It’s something that we pointed out, that sandbags are not a panacea. Residents and businesses along a tidal river need to put boards over windows and take other precautions.”