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McLean Takes Hurricane Isabel Blow by Blow

After initially announcing there would be no school on Monday at Chesterbrook and Churchill Road elementary schools in McLean, Fairfax County Public School officials opened both schools two hours late after power was restored. Lemon Road Elementary remained closed.

The disruption came at an awkward time for young students who are getting used to new classmates, new teachers and new routines, said Churchill Road Elementary principal Dan Hutzel. “You lose momentum in the school year,” he said. “We try to get a really good routine in place, not just for the kids, but also for the teachers.

“On a grand scale, this isn’t a hugely detrimental thing,” Hutzel said, “but it takes a few days to readjust.”

The only damage to the school, loss of a mature locust tree that splintered over the basketball court, was minimized by the attention of 15 members of a Boy Scout Troop 681, who came to the school grounds as scheduled on Saturday to mulch, prune and beautify the landscaping as part of an Eagle Scout project for Stephen Shaw, Hutzel said.

And the hurricane offered a close-up study project for the sixth-grade classes that do a unit on weather this year, he said, offering “a phenomenal observation for the totally tangible things we can speak to when we do the unit,” such as electricity.

Less tangibly, the hurricane offers students a chance to observe “what do we really need, and what can we survive without,” said the principal.

“SOMETIMES IT IS NICE to have a day home with your family,” he said. And the hurricane was an object lesson in community building, showing that “this is a community. We work together. We rally to help one another.”

In addition to their usual lessons about values and respect, Hutzel said, “The kids here have seen good citizenship modeled. They know what it means to help your neighbor.”

By comparison with “scary” recent events like the terrorist attacks in 2001 and the sniper scare last fall, the hurricane did not leave most children “terrified or scared,” he said. “It is exciting to see the big limbs that fell.”

And by Saturday, the weather was again beautiful, allowing children to ride their bikes, read books and play games, because many of them didn’t have television, CD players and computers to entertain themselves.

POWER WAS STILL out on Tuesday in many McLean neighborhoods that have large, mature trees and overhead power lines.

In east McLean, the Old Chesterbrook Road area was hard-hit, including Weaver, Sinclair, and Dulaney drives, according to Dranesville District supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn and Rosemary Ryan, his legislative aide for McLean.

Greenway Heights, Langley Farms, the Saigon Road area, Idylwood Road and Westhampton in the Falls Church area of McLean were without power, they said.

Dolley Madison Library, the McLean Community Center and the McLean Government Center had no power on Monday.

When the power was restored to the Government Center, the phones went out, Ryan said. Callers just heard the phone ring, but there was no answer: from Ryan’s point of view, the worst possible scenario and one that “enrages people. There is no worse thing,” Ryan said.

Mendelsohn and his staff worked over the weekend, trying to get power restored, he said.

But many residents still had no power at press time, with no one to tell them when they would get it back, making them grouchy and driving.

“They have power in their minds, but not in their electric lines,” said Dranesville District Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn.

“A lot of them are still out, with no hope in sight. We have people with no wells, and no septic [tanks working]. It is just not pretty,” Mendelsohn said.

He said his staff faxed a list to Dominion Virginia Power, naming the areas that are still missing power, but haven’t gotten any explanation about when they’ll get it back.

“I think most of these people will have it by the end of the week, but I don’t know if that is acceptable,” Mendelsohn said.

“The end of the week? It seems the last 16,000 [customers] are taking longer than the first hundred thousand. The fact they won’t give you any information makes it even worse. People could make plans if they had some idea.”

As for the water outage, Mendelsohn said, “I think now that this whole thing is over, we are going to have to look at the way we are doing this. I understand the likelihood of losing all four [water sources] at once was not great, and I understand the cost of the backup power supply, but there has to be a better answer than ‘sorry, that is the best we can do,’” he said.

Pamela Danner of McLean, Dranesville’s representative to the Fairfax County Water Authority, was not available for comment at press time, but Mendelsohn said people in Dranesville District don’t like the idea of overhead water towers that would enhance the supply and regulate water pressure.

IN FRANKLIN PARK, where trash pickup is provided by Fairfax County, the regular Friday pickup was canceled because of concerns that high winds would turn the trash bins into missiles.

But over the weekend, when power was not restored and residents were forced to discard meat and other food, it began to spoil, which caused an offensive odor.

Ryan said some residents were concerned that if they put their trash bins out, they would attract animals like raccoons, but leaving it in their garages would cause the noxious odors to linger in the house.

Mendelsohn said Franklin Park will get an unscheduled trash pickup on Wednesday that he arranged “After a lot of arm-twisting, especially for a lame duck” after he told county trash officials that his constituents “don’t have power, they have rancid food, and you aren’t going to pick up their trash?” he said.

“That was like pulling teeth,” Mendelsohn said. “They are so focused on the flooding in Alexandria that they have totally lost sight of the rest of the county.”

AT GREAT FALLS NATIONAL PARK, damage was limited to downed trees that miraculously missed all the park’s treasured cultural resources – the canal that George Washington helped build, or the ruins of Matildaville, said Park Manager Walter E. McDowney.

The altitude in Mather Gorge, 110 feet above sea level at the top of the Great Falls of the Potomac, drops to 70 below the gorge, a distance of about one and one-fourth miles.

When the Potomac floods, water rushes through with a powerful force that makes it appear to churn and boil below the sheer rock walls of the gorge. The current creates eddies and circular patterns that were marked by flotsam and tree trunks over the weekend.

“It’s impressive. It’s magnificent. It’s such a powerful force,” said Gus Anderson, a kayaker from McLean who brought his daughter, Ashley, to see the river on Sunday.

He pointed to the smooth surges of water continually surfacing in an area called Fisherman’s Eddy. “Those ‘boils’ are where it’s coming back to the surface.”

Fairfax County Police at the McLean District Station kept their computers powered by using a generator, and their telephones were kept open throughout the storm.

Although some intersections went without traffic direction after power was lost, by Friday morning, when police officers reported for work, they were mostly manned.

Fairfax County public safety personnel were kept updated on the storm with conference calls and teleconferences every two hours during the night as the storm swept through Northern Virginia.