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After the Storm

Residents band together after Hurricane Isabel.

Hurricane Isabel blew through the area, last week, toppling trees, breaking branches, snapping power lines and affecting water pressure.

Yet as horrendous as it was for many residents and businesses — especially in Alexandria — western Fairfax County weathered it fairly well. The adversity also fostered a spirit of camaraderie, with neighbors helping each other clear storm debris from their yards.

Friday afternoon, Paul Skopowski, Dennis McKinnon and Bill and Dee Spellings aided their Majestic Lane neighbors, Pat and Jim Parker, of Chantilly's Greenbriar community. Gathered around a chipper/shredder, they chopped up fallen branches from the Parkers' sycamore tree in the front yard.

"IT WAS A MESS," said Pat Parker. "All the neighbors pitched in. Everyone brought their tree limbs over; they've been working on them, three or four hours."

McKinnon said his home's electric power went out Thursday night at 9:30 p.m., so "we just watched the storm." Parker said her home lost power, too and — like others countywide — had low water pressure. "I sold a generator, a month ago, to make room in my shed," said her husband Jim. "Now, we could have used it."

The Greenbriar scenario was played out in other neighborhoods and communities throughout the local area. Residents whistled in amazement at uprooted trees flung atop homes and vehicles. They raked bags full of leaves and twigs, boiled water until the county said it was again safe to drink and scoured stores for bottled water and ice.

In the Pender area, workmen drove from street to street, picking up downed branches and chucking them into the beds of pickup trucks. Meanwhile, workmen along Chantilly's Route 50 collected fallen tree limbs from grassy areas along the highway. One man hacked them into smaller segments with a machete, while another man loaded them into a tractor.

Chantilly High was one of four schools designated by the county as official storm shelters. "Never, to my memory, have we set up so many shelters at once," said American Red Cross worker Kathy Vernon, Friday afternoon, at the school. "The Red Cross is funded by private donations — and our budget was used up by spring — so we've been really stretching our resources. We took everything we had and divided it into four."

She said about 35 people availed themselves of the shelter during Thursday night's storm. Thanks to the Chantilly Academy's veterinary medicine program there — the school has animal cages, so some people brought pets for safekeeping. Said Vernon: "We had three dogs, a cat and a hamster."

OTHER OCCUPANTS included families with anxious children. "They were afraid of the wind and how bad it might be, so they came here [for comfort]," said Vernon. "We also had people who couldn't get home because of trees being down. And a VDOT worker who lived in Winchester and was working here spent the night [at Chantilly High] to catch a breather."

The school provided cookies, juice and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, plus cereal, juice, milk and sweet rolls for breakfast. Manning the shelter were three Red Cross volunteers, four members of the county's Department of Family Services and school custodial, cafeteria and security staff. Police officers and EMTs were also on hand, as well as a ham radio operator who provided hurricane updates.

"We lost power at 11 p.m. for about five hours, but we had a generator and went onto auxiliary power," said Vernon. "Everyone was calm, and the teen-agers here were especially helpful."

Little Rocky Run also lost power, but got it back around Friday noon. But Monday afternoon, Westfields Corporate Center developer Bill Keech said the TASC and Grumman buildings there were still without electricity and he was seeing what he could do to help them.

Dominion Virginia Power spokesman Bob Fulton said 1,800 Fairfax customers — including Fair Oaks and Fair Lakes — were without power then. "We really appreciate the patience of our customers," he said. "We know it's an inconvenience, but we're working as hard as we can to get it back."

Another spokeswoman, Deborah Johnson, said some 25,000 Northern Virginia customers were still powerless, Tuesday afternoon. Said Johnson: "We're working Tuesday and Wednesday to restore power to customers in the Stringfellow Road area of Chantilly."