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A Return to Normalcy?

Power, water returns; damages still being assessed.

While the City of Alexandria was sponsoring a party to say goodbye to Isabel, some residents were barely getting back to normal.

Nearly two weeks after Isabel’s departure, there are still large downed trees, and some city residents are just feeling comfortable enough to refill freezers and refrigerators.

Nancy LaValle, Councilman Paul Smedberg’s aide, said power was restored to her home on Key Drive on Sept. 25, “just three hours short of a week after we lost it,” she said.

“We didn’t have power and we couldn’t find any ice, so we had to go to the store, get food and come home and cook it. It was a real challenge with three children, three adults and four pets.

"The weekend was particularly difficult because, in addition to having no power, we had no water. I really think that the hardest part of all of this was not knowing what was going to happen. If Dominion Virginia Power or the city had come by and told us that we were going to be without power for a week, we could have prepared better. Communication just wasn’t very good. But it’s kind of like childbirth — once the power came back on, you forgot about how bad it was,” LaValle said.

By last Thursday, when LaValle’s power was restored, most city residents were getting back to normal. City and private tree-removal crews worked in 12-hour shifts to remove downed or damaged trees and other debris. By last weekend, all traffic lights in the city were functioning. The city’s Goodbye Isabel Party, which was held at the city marina, was held on a dock that may have sustained structural damage, so parts of it were off limits to party-goers.

ACCORDING TO Barbara Gordon, the city’s public information officer, “City staff’s preliminary review indicates that there may be electrical damage and damage to the structural integrity of the leading edge of the main deck. The difficulty early on was that the continued high-water level prevented complete structural analysis because we can’t get under the decking.”

About 500 people attended last weekend’s party and free concert. “We just want everyone to know that Old Town is open for business again,” said City Manager Philip G. Sunderland, when he announced the party.

“Open for business” is a relative term. The Alexandria Art League has a gallery at the Torpedo Factory. “We reopened on Saturday but we still have a lot of work to do,” said Linda Hafer, the Art League’s executive director. “We estimate that our repairs are going to cost between $20,000 and $30,000. We have volunteers doing some of the work to cut costs and are going to do some fund-raisers as well. We are looking into the feasibility of applying for assistance through the federal programs that are being offered.”

THE ART LEAGUE has served the community for close to 50 years, offering fine arts classes and exhibits. While Isabel damaged the walls and ruined the carpet, only one piece of art, a sculpture, was damaged. There was no damage to the League’s extensive art library.

Two criminal acts were directly related to Isabel. First, a group of residents took sand from the volleyball court at Windmill Hill Park. “We got two calls about this on Friday morning, Sept. 19,” said Amy Bertsch, a spokesperson for the Alexandria Police Department. “One caller reported destruction of property, and another reported trespassing. We sent an officer to investigate the call.”

Police also received a report of a stolen generator. “The generator was powering the traffic light at Washington and Madison street and was chained to a pole,” Bertsch said. “It was taken sometime last Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. We haven’t found the generator or the individual or individuals who took it.”

Paulette Burdett, an Alexandria resident who was without power until last Tuesday, put a positive spin on Isabel. “We have just moved back to Alexandria after living in Atlanta for six years,” she said. “Because no one on our street had power for several days, we were all outside, and I got an opportunity to get to know my neighbors. Everyone was terrific. We had a gas stove and a gas water heater, so I could cook and we could take showers. My husband even cooked frozen lasagna on our gas grill and fed the guys who were working on our power lines.

"The kids didn’t have TV, and there were definitely some inconveniences, but considering that we could have had a tree on our house or on our car, things weren’t so bad.”