Weathering the Storm

Weathering the Storm

Fallen branches, standing water still waiting to be repaired two weeks after storm.

More than two weeks after a severe rainstorm swept through his North Springfield neighborhood, Bob Powers has a backyard full of tree limbs and broken branches.

Standing in front of his home on Larrlyn Drive, homes to the left and right suffered minor damage during the storm where trees fell onto brick homes that would’ve been crushed if they had been built of anything else. Across the street, homes were relatively unscathed, only a few branches here and there.

“The damage was from Woodland Drive to Wendy Way, about the length of one city block,” said Powers. Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department rescue workers evacuated Powers and his family from their home during the storm on Sunday, July 2 when strong winds tossed trees around like so many toothpicks.

“It was devastating,” he said. “It was a disaster.”

Their yards now littered with uprooted trees, some homes covered with blue tarps to keep out the rain and cover up holes caused by branches, Powers said he has never seen a storm like that in his life.

“These were all old growth trees. We had some that must’ve dated back to before the Civil War,” he said, pointing to his backyard where one tree is cracked nearly down the middle.

Neighbor Steve Carrico, a general contractor, was on a fishing trip in Woodstock, Va., when the storm hit. He received a call from Powers, telling him that a tree had fallen on his shed, causing it to collapse, and that a branch had fallen on the roof of a screened-in room.

“I didn’t think it’d be anything like this,” said Carrico said, drove home the next morning to find eight oak trees in his front and back yards had been toppled. “I miss my oaks. I’m really upset about this.”

Carrico noted that a small forest had been cut down when a new community of townhomes was built behind his neighborhood. “Those trees blocked the wind. If they were still there, the damage wouldn’t have been this bad.”

Powers said his neighbors on the other side had a tree fall through the middle of their dining room, damaging the house so badly they’ve been forced to move out until repairs are made.

“It was a really stressful period for all of us,” Powers said. “The storm was like being in the middle of a whirlwind. It didn’t seem like a micro storm when the wind and trees were slapping at the house.”

A SERIES OF cream-colored streaks on the red brick chimney on the back of his home, left by falling branches, are just inches from the intake and exhaust ducts for his gas-powered water heater. The round silver valve connecting his home to a gas line was pushed into the ground by a tree, severing a gas line in the process.

“For two days, we had no electricity.” Powers said. “We didn’t have gas from Sunday to Friday after the storm.”

His son, Mike Powers, said neighbors who drove down their street and saw the fallen branches at the front of the homes were only seeing half of the destruction. "Most of the damage was behind the houses,” he said, including in Carrico’s yard, where one tree was uprooted and a 10 foot high, 20 foot wide root ball was exposed.

Their front yard is now home to a menagerie of squirrels and birds, said Betty Rae Powers, Bob Power’s wife.

“We used to have foxes and squirrels in our backyard but they lost their home,” she said. They’ve taken to filling bird feeders with seed to keep the animals fed and safe until the branches are removed.

Pointing to an acorn-shaped feeder above his driveway, Bob Powers said it had been filled with birds immediately after the storm hit.

His real concern isn’t when the trees will be removed from his backyard — Fairfax County officials were scheduled to begin removing them on Monday — but with the abundance of standing water that has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes on Larrlyn Drive.

“Every tree that was down left a big whole the filled with water, and standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes,” he said.

“We’ve all been complaining for years about this ditch on both sides of the road that get filled with water but isn’t cleaned out, so the water just stands there,” Powers said. “People are worried about West Nile Virus, let’s take care of this before it becomes a problem.”

Powers was so concerned about mosquitoes he e-mailed Supervisor Penny Gross (D-Mason) to see what she planned to do to help her constituents.

"At the last Board meeting, we directed the County Executive to get in touch with the folks who had trees go down to see how they're doing," Gross said.

In past summers, the county's health department has handed out "mosquito dunks," which Gross described as "donut-shaped disks that are dropped into standing water. As they dissolve, they kill the mosquito larva. They work pretty well, I have a few around here."

Residents on Larrlyn Drive "really took a hit," Gross said. "Those residents and the people in Mount Vernon probably got the worst of it."

The Board of Supervisors has applied to FEMA to obtain federal aid for storm repairs, and Gross said they would find out at the next Board meeting, scheduled for July 31, if they were approved.

"I hope [the funding] would give us an opportunity to do some work removing trees and doing some repair to county structures," she said. "We want to make sure we address the storm-related damage."