Heavy rains were falling and a coastal flood warning from the National Weather Service was in effect. Television stations had dispatched camera crews. The county set up a mobile command unit to handle emergencies. On Thursday, a familiar scene was playing out for residents of Arlington Terrace and Fenwick Drive in Huntington.
As it did during the storm at the end of June that forced the evacuation of over 160 homes, Cameron Run spilled over its banks and began creeping towards the duplexes in the floodplain nearby. But this time, it didn’t creep far. Although it lapped at some yards and spread mud along the bottom of Fenwick Drive, the flooding was low enough to be considered almost routine.
Fenwick resident Rodney Grimes said this flood was “small” compared to previous results of heavy rains. But neither he nor his neighbors knew what the outcome would be as they watched the waters rise. “What you do when it rains is almost like having a nightmare,” Grimes said. “Every time, you’re wondering, ‘Are we going to be floating again?’”
County spokesman Jim Person said only one to three inches of rain were recorded across the county from the storm. But because the Potomac tide was peaking several feet above its normal level shortly after 5 p.m., the county dispatched officials from the police, fire department, emergency management and the Department of Public Works. Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland also waited at the command center.
The county evacuated eight to 10 homes, and residents were allowed to return later in the day.
Ultimately, the water spilled across Huntington Park and low points in Fenwick Drive and Arlington Terrace, but did not enter any houses, Person said. “As it turned out there was no damage. But we just tried to err on the side of safety.”
THE RESIDENTS of Huntington are tired of being the focal point of an emergency muster whenever raindrops start to fall a little too heavily. “I hear from people all the time that every time it rains, it worries them,” said Mack Rhoades, chairman of the Huntington Citizens Association. “We cant keep going through this: evacuate, having all the trucks there, news media. It was a flashback for a lot of people.”
“Something needs to be done immediately.”
Grimes said he had to leave his part-time job an hour early when a friend called at 4 p.m. to tell him water was reaching up to his truck tires. His truck is filled with items he salvaged from his basement after June 25, when water flowed in so powerfully it broke a hole in the wall.
The hole is still there. Grimes said he did not have insurance and money is tight. He is worried he won’t have the money for his daughter to enroll in her second semester of college.
“The only reason why we panic at this point now is because you can’t rely on the weatherman,” Grimes said. “When the weatherman says this is going to stop we just praying that it does. Because if it doesn’t, we’re going to be floating again.”
Despite the recent release of a report from VDOT and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project that cleared themselves of all responsibility for the flooding, Grimes said he thinks it is no coincidence that the floods afflicting his nieghborhood became more frequent a few years ago, when bridge construction first began at the mouth of Cameron Run. “It’s almost like right now we’re beaten up against a brick wall because everybody is trying to ignore the truth,” he said.
“Everybody has neglected the fact that this is really affecting people’s lives.”
RHOADES SAID people in his community are calling him to complain about the “lip service” they feel they are receiving from the Board of Supervisors. He said his association planned to pass a resolution calling for “immediate flood control measures,” such as dredging. “That’s better than doing nothing. Which is what we’re doing.”
He said the emergency measures taken on Thursday helped reassure people about their own safety, but as long as their property and all their possessions are also at risk, their anxiety will not ease. “Nobody’s lives are back to normal unless there’s something in place.”
Rhoades described a community at risk and in stasis, with plummeting home values and little incentive to make improvements. “All that water was coming down from everyplace else in the county,” he said, “That’s going to keep happening until there’s a comprehensive effort to do something.”
And Grimes said that although he and his neighbors are concerned with the responses from the powerful entities around them, they are involved in a more elemental struggle.
“The other battle is not just the battle against Mother Nature, against the country and the bridge construction, it’s a battle for self-preservation. Because we spent every last dime we had.”
Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland, who represents Huntington, said the Board of Supervisors is awaiting a comprehensive report commissioned by the county that should be ready in about one month. But he agreed that action could be taken in the interim. He called dredging “absolutely necessary,” because he believes the report will recommend dredging, among other things, anyway.
“I share their impatience. If we can have just a couple inches of water that threatens to flood that community then obviously we need to do something immediately to lessen that threat.”