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Storm Threat

City prepares for potential flooding.

Due to heavy rains expected from what is now Tropical Storm Frances, combined with river high tides and wind, Alexandria is once again bracing for the possibility of flooding over the next several days.

Howeowners are encouraged to clean out their homes' gutters, clear debris from downspouts, and, if the home has a sump pump, make sure it is operative. Heavy rains may cause sewer backups in certain areas, according to City officials.

"We are just about to reach the amount of rainfall that we had for all of last year, this year, and we are only in September," said Richard Baier, the city's director of the department of transportation and environmental services. "The water table is up but the ground is not yet saturated. Over the next five days, we are anticipating between four and five inches of rain. While we are not expecting the kind of flooding that we saw in February and June of 2003, we are preparing."

A truck load of sand and 500 bags have been placed at 500 S. Union St. for residents and businesses to help themselves. Shovels will not be provided.

On Tuesday, 500 filled sandbags were delivered to Old Town businesses located in traditionally flood prone areas, according to Barbara Gordon, city public information officer. In addition, 50 sandbags each were placed on pallets for pickup by residents and businesses at the following intersections: Pitt and Gibbon streets, Commonwealth Avenue and Glebe Road, and Prince and Union streets.

"We are following the after-action recommendations that council approved after Hurricane Isabel last year," Baier said. "People should just stay vigilant."

"RESIDENTS ALSO need to be aware that significant rains in other areas of the state may cause flooding of the Potomac River within the next 24 to 36 hours," said Mark Penn, emergency management coordinator. He also emphasized, "Regardless of heavy rains businesses in Alexandria are open and the Festival of the Arts this weekend will be on, rain or shine."

In preparation of any emergency, residents are encouraged to assemble a disaster supply kit and have a family disaster plan.

More information on how to prepare is available on these web sites: www.vaemergency.com, www.ready.gov., and www.redcross.org. For general Alexandria information, residents may call the Office of Citizen Assistance at 703-838-4800.

THE NATIONAL Weather Service monitors all types of weather. Doug Hilderbrand, who lives in Alexandria, is a meteorologist at National Weather Service headquarters in Silver Spring.

"In August, two lessons were learned ... Hurricane Charley caught residents of Punta Gorda by surprise after it jogged slightly east of the official forecast track ... most residents thought it would hit up in Tampa to the north. However, Punta Gorda was well within the forecast zone issued by the National Hurricane Center," Hilderbrand said.

"The first lesson is to always be prepared as if the hurricane will turn toward you ... not just continue along its current path.

"Just recently, remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston devastated the city of Richmond with upwards of 8-10 inches of rain. Richmond Airport received 6.68 inches officially, more than what it received during Hurricane Floyd. Seven deaths in Virginia were attributed to Gaston, mostly from flash flooding while people were in their cars. Over $15 million damage in Richmond from this seemingly innocuous storm," he said.

"Our second lesson is that any tropical system ... whether a powerful hurricane or ghost of a weak tropical storm can cause tremendous damage from inland flooding. The D.C. area, weary from last season's direct hit from Hurricane Isabel, has been spared this year so far with near misses from Hurricane Alex, Bonnie, Charley and Gaston. The remnants of Hurricane Frances, however, could affect the area by early to mid week after Labor Day. Always prepare yourself for the worst," Hilderbrand said.