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After the Storm

Residents and local officials cope with extensive storm damage.

Sue Keil’s troubles didn’t end when the flood receded on Wednesday. Stormwaters left her yard and driveway in disarray. Three trees were haphazardly tossed to the ground and a log buoyed by water was deposited 140 feet away from its original location. The stately bridge in front of her house has a gaping hole that widens if one steps on the nearby gravel. One of Keil's cars is parked near the street, and the other is trapped on the other side of the bridge.

"I got [the Jeep] out after the first day," she said. "I was scared because I didn't know how the bridge would do. I think it's really unstable."

One of the giant metal culverts used to guide stream water under her bridge was twisted and reshaped by the fast-moving flood water, and another culvert was carried away altogether.

"I don't know how much those culverts weigh," she said, motioning toward one of the colossal structures, "but they've all been twisted like Play-Doh.

"This is much worse than the damage from Hurricane Isabelle," said Keil, who has lived on Kendale Road in Potomac for 20 years. "My grass was all water — rushing water."

IN ROCKVILLE, the emergency evacuation of thousands of people around Lake Needwood required creative solutions for four-legged family members. A special pet shelter was opened at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds site in what chief administrator Bruce Romer called a “lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina.” The shelter was designed to house both pets and their owners. Less than a dozen families took advantage of the site. Most evacuees stayed with family or friends rather than seeking public shelter.

Allan Cohen of Potomac brought pet food and other supplies to the fairgrounds. As vice-president of the Montgomery County Human Society, Cohen Romer's sentiments that Hurricane Katrina has reinforced lessons about emergency preparedness. Every family with pets should have food supplies for themselves and their pets, and in an emergency evacuation, families should take their pets with them.

By Friday, residents evacuated from the Lake Needwood area had returned home, and Montgomery Parks Director Mary Bradford announced that the leaking from the Lake Needwood dam had stabilized, and the level of the lake was dropping. Rock Creek Regional Park, including Lake Needwood, remained closed to the public through the weekend. Bradford estimated that a cleanup will cost millions of dollars.

BRADFORD GAVE AN update on the storm damage at a special Council briefing on Thursday afternoon.

“We don’t have an assessment of trail damage yet, but it’s going to be severe,” she said.

Cabin John Regional Park was clobbered, with many of the park's varied facilities rendered unusable in the days after the floods.

“Cabin John campsites and culverts were washed out, and the train station is a mess,” said Bradley at a planning commission meeting later that day. “In Little Falls, the [road] shoulder is washed out.

“This sheet I’m holding up is [damages to] Cabin John alone,” she told the commissioners while dangling a long list in the air.

The Park Service is compiling a list of damages for FEMA in hopes of reimbursement.

Matthew Logan, president of the Potomac Conservancy, estimated that the C&O Canal had sustained $1.5 million in damages.

“We’re still really in the evaluation stage, trying to figure out what can be done,” he said. “The work is going to require major construction activity and significant resources.”

The conservation group occupies Lock House 8 on the canal, which was opened to the public last year following a three-year restoration effort.

“The cellar there is flooded significantly,” said Logan. “We’ve had a pump running pretty much around the clock the last couple of days trying to get the water out, so we’re sympathetic to all the poor souls out there who’ve had their basements flooded.”

COUNCILMEMBERS PRAISED the local response to the disaster at Thursday’s meeting.

“Sometimes out of bad comes good,” said Howard Denis (R-1). “The good news here is that we’ve demonstrated that Montgomery County is ready. We’re as ready as we can be for this kind of disaster.”

“Please accept my heartfelt gratitude to … all the Montgomery County rescue workers who have not gotten much sleep in the last few days,” said Nancy Floreen (D-at large).

Council president George Leventhal (D-at large), whose basement was flooded by the storm, supported the controversial decision to evacuate about 2,300 people from around Lake Needwood following dam leaks.

“Over the last few months, Americans have wondered whether their government is prepared for natural disasters,” he said. “In Montgomery County, based on data, our government made a prudent decision to protect persons and property. How much better it is that folks evacuated than if there was eight feet of water in their living room.”

Denis said that after destructive Hurricane Isabel in 2003, he and Councilmember Tom Perez (D-5) arranged a public hearing on alleged inadequacies of electricity company Pepco in dealing with the storm.

“I’m curious,” said Denis. “How did Pepco measure up? Did they respond with improvement since Hurricane Isabelle?”

“I can’t point to any problems we had with this event,” said Romer. “From my vantage point it was very smooth.”