Deb Sell-Pugh worries every time there's talk of a hurricane. She jokes that she has "hurricane anxiety," and rightfully so. It was only this past Labor Day that she and her family moved back into their Belle View home. The Pugh family has been living with Sell-Pugh's parents in Rose Hill for almost a year. The last time they slept in their house was Thursday, Sept. 18, 2003. Almost a full year has gone by since Isabel made its way through Belle View and New Alexandria.
"Everything was ruined — couch, chairs, TVs, VCRs, computers, oven, the refrigerator," Sell-Pugh said. "The interesting thing was that we never lost power so the water in the freezer [that had seeped in] was frozen solid — we had to chip it away."
Sell-Pugh said that they had to redo the entire first floor, from new floors to new drywall to new electrical lines. The Pughs' home had paper trim conduit sheathing its electrical wiring, which just soaked up from the water from floor to ceiling. The vents and ducts were up high, so they survived. The cast-iron vents for baseboard heating were preserved as well.
"What we could save, we did," Sell-Pugh said.
The renovations took so long in part because they had to wait for things to happen. First, they had to wait a few weeks for the insurance adjuster. The insurance company initially gave them a very low estimate for the damage: Sell-Pugh disputed the claim and the company ultimately increased the amount. While it didn't cover the entire cost of the repairs, it came close. Once the insurance was settled, they had to try to find a contractor. With so much demand for repairs, it wasn't easy to find one, but they finally found a contractor working in the neighborhood who was willing to take on their job.
TO SAVE MONEY, they used various contractors to do different components of the job. One of those workers was Art Wilmeth, who lives in Bush Hill.
"He did many, many things but most impressive are the walls and the kitchen. I just love the crown molding and chairs rails. And he even played a big role in choosing colors," Sell-Pugh said.
While Sell-Pugh knows that there's not much that they can do to save their house should another Isabel come, she knows that she would at least move what she could to the second floor. Their house originally belonged to her grandparents, who tell the story of hiring a moving company to move out all their furniture when a storm threatened in the '70s. Unlike Isabel, that storm never came.
The Pughs are in better shape than some. Across the street from them, John Kelly's house has been leveled. Sell-Pugh said that Kelly had some major structural damage and was required to start from scratch. Construction has not begun. Down the street from them, a house they call "The Alamo" has only the outside walls remaining. The interior walls and the roof are gone, and it is unclear when that renovation will begin. Around the corner, Rick Winchester is still working on his parent's home.
IN BELLE VIEW SHOPPING CENTER, store owners are starting to breathe a sigh of relief. Dishes of India is finally back in business and hosted the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber luncheon his week; other businesses in the center seem to be doing well.
"Business is pretty good," said Roger Kronstedt, owner of Alexandria Music Company. He lost almost $90,000 worth of musical instruments when Isabel flooded his basement. Most of them had to be disposed of because of fear of contamination by mold. Some pieces were sold to a repair person for mere dollars.
"All our equipment [in the basement] was rendered useless," he said.
Looking back, Kronstedt said that what he most appreciated was the fact that people continued to shop.
"I was thankful for the customers who were willing to go through the muck and deal with the inconvenience. People came in and bought things — that was the biggest help," Kronstedt said. He was also very appreciative of a homeowner named Scott who came out to help and a $500 donation from the Mount Vernon Lion's Club.
"Lion's [Club] were the only charity that helped — nobody else came out. It's a reality check, you realize that the government and FEMA is a political game," he said. "You realize that you have to keep moving — there's no time to stop and reflect."
Kronstedt acknowledges that there came a point when he had to get over it and knows that next time there's a threat of flooding, he will bring equipment upstairs. He will also use more sandbags to try to prevent as much damage from occurring.
"Hopefully it won't be the same thing [next time]," Kronstedt said.
NEXT DOOR at Spoke's Etc., Brian Keenaghan, manager, said he was also glad that customers kept buying. The damage at that store was so bad that they had to close for two weeks.
"Part of the reason that the damage was so bad was that the cinder block wall in the basement caved in," Keenaghan said.
Not only did the collapse of the wall allow a great deal of water to come in, but it did a lot of damage to the bikes. Keenaghan and his employees spent the two weeks draining the sewage water out of the basement and steam-cleaning the bikes.
"We were able to salvage most of the bikes and sell them at cost. The soft goods had to be discarded because we worried about mold," Keenaghan said.
He's hoping that if something like that happens again, the rebuilt wall will be more secure. He says there's no way that they can move all the bikes they have stored in the basement. He's glad that the Dishes of India is back, for they were hit the hardest.
"We're doing OK," Keenaghan said and smiled as he said, "We haven't had a flood this year — yet."