Three people were killed by the waters which rose up out of Northern Virginia creeks Thursday night, and hundreds more were forced from their homes. The most serious damage appears to have occurred in the Huntington area of Fairfax County and the Woodbridge area of Prince William County.
The Post had reporters fanned out through NoVa Friday to capture the heartache and loss, and here are a number of files from the staff:
Family loses everything in Woodbridge mobile home
Woodbridge resident Soledad Espino was busy getting dinner ready while her husband was out picking up their two children from karate when the water began to creep into their mobile home Thursday.
Within minutes the murky water was up to Espino’s knees and her friend was at the front door urging her to get out. Espino said she grabbed a small blue and green tote bag, threw in some clothes and ran to higher ground.
The content in that tote bag is now all she has left. The rest has been washed away or damaged by the muddy, sewer water that engulfed Holly Acres Mobile Home Park.
“I wanted to save more, but we didn’t have time,” Espino said. “It happened so fast. We [lived] 12 years in this trailer and it’s all gone.”
The floors of the gray trailer were cloaked in mud and beginning to buckle Friday. Water dripped from a ceiling that was beginning to drop and the refrigerator was lying sideways across their kitchen floor.
Espino’s husband, Abel Espino, looked at his plasma television, wondering if it would one day turn back on. He tried to dry out the few papers they saved from the children’s first day of school, but their backpacks were destroyed.
“Oh man, oh my God — it was all I could say when I” came back today, Abel Espino said. “I just cried.”
Soledad Espino said her daughter is turning 10 Saturday and they were supposed to have her friends over. Now, Espino said, she hopes to at least get her a small cake because it’s “all we can afford.”
— Jennifer Buske
Driving through high water in Huntington
As Cameron Run surged over its banks at Huntington Park Thursday night, and then into the neighborhoods, the water along one nearby street was nearly waist deep, Cody Bishop said. But cars insisted on driving through, Bishop, 17, said. And when the water entered the exhaust pipe, cars would stall. "We started pushing cars through the water," Bishop said. "Even a Metro cop got stopped, and we pushed him out. It was bad. I've never seen it that deep."
— Tom Jackman
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More destruction at Holly Acres mobile home park
Missy Neff stacked old Girl Scout cookies boxes full of what few possessions her family could salvage onto their green pick-up truck Friday after a flooded creek behind her mobile home washed out the close knit Woodbridge community.
The mother of two, along with dozens of other residents were covered in mud as they lugged garbage bags full of possessions to cars. Their homes in the Holly Acres Mobile Home Park were uninhabitable following yesterday’s rainstorm.
“I just can’t believe It’s gone,” said Neff who has lived there for 17 years. “It is hard to say goodbye to your home. “
The mobile home park off Route 1 houses between 70 and 100 residents, county officials said. Police were asking families to take what they could and leave by 1 p.m. so fire and building officials could assess properties. County officials said many if not all homes may be condemned. Many had sagging, leaking roofs and were full of muddy sewage. Some slid of their foundation, bumping into neighboring homes. Furniture was upside-down and floors buckled.
Neff, 43, said she got home from work around 5:30p.m. Thursday and immediately drove to the creek behind the community. The water was still fairly low, so she felt safe, especially since Hurricane Irene caused no damage.
Within an hour though, Neff said she looked out her window and saw the water creeping up the street.
“We quickly grabbed a few things and ran,” she said between tears. “if we would have waited, I don’t know if we’d be here now. “
Neff said the creek has flooded before and they would see a foot or two of water standing in parts of the community. But, nothing like this. The family is staying with friends, but Neff said she doesn’t know what they will do next.
“We’ve lost everything, but things can be replaced,” she said. At least “we still have each other.”
UPDATE: Prince William County officials said all homes in Holly Acres Mobile Home Park will be condemned. County officials believe there were about 100 units at Holly Acres.
The Woodbridge High School shelter had about 300 people registered at the shelter Friday evening.
— Jennifer Buske
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Raging water and mud in Huntington
At the height of the flood Thursday night on Fenwick Street in Huntington, the water rose to four feet on a street light pole. Across the street and a bit uphill, the water rose to the bottom of the windows on a canary-yellow Volkswagen Golf.
As residents tried to flee, they found that the water that was a foot or so deep at their front step deepened considerably when they moved down to the sidewalk.
"I'm 6'2", I evacuated with my 15-month-old daughter on my shoulders and the water came up to here on me," said Stacy Hoeflich, indicating her chest.
Mahmut Demir lifted his 4- and 7-year-old children and waded toward Huntington Avenue where county officials had already set up a shuttle bus. His wife, Lilly Dixon, lost a shoe as they pushed through the cold water and slippery mud. A neighbor, Brian Chesney, lent a hand with the children; people were panicked, he said, but not out of control.
"It was more, 'What do we do?' A couple of nights ago, we all got a knock on the door at 3 a.m. from police, asking us to move our cars [to higher ground] so we were prepared. And we were pretty much stocked up from the hurricane," Chesney said.
Depending on how far a home was from Cameron Run, the depth of water in the basements ranged from 3 feet to a few inches. Several residents said the force of the water in the basement was so strong that it toppled their washers and dryers, and one deep freezer was turned upside down.
So much mud came up Fenwick from Cameron Run that it took a small plow to clear the muck from the street. The sidewalks were ankle deep in brown viscous sludge at midmorning Friday, as residents began using hoses to spray it off into gutters.
— Patricia Sullivan
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Fairfax schools became refuges for stranded children
Some Fairfax County schools morphed into refuge centers Thursday night as hundreds of students were left stranded by the storm, their school bus drivers and their parents caught in a seemingly endless snarl of traffic and washed out roads.
When Colvin Run Elementary School was dismissed at 3:55 p.m., only one of its usual 12 buses arrived on time to pick up kids and hundreds of children remained in their classrooms, playing games and watching movies.
They were joined around 4:30 p.m. by about 120 teenagers -- three bus-fulls of middle and high school students whose drivers were unable to complete their routes.
By 6 pm, between 500 and 600 students were still at school. Teachers raided their personal snack stashes to fill hungry bellies. Someone dragged out gym mats so the kindergartners could go to sleep.
"It was like nothing i've ever seen before," said Camille Flint, president of the parent teacher organization at Colvin Run Elementary School in Vienna.
The last student was picked up at 9:50 p.m., said principal Steve Hockett. There were few early warnings that the seemingly regular rainy day would turn into a chaotic marathon, Hockett said, and into a bonding experience.
His staff didn't balk at staying hours late with their students, and concerned neighbors came to the school bearing offers of help and a little bit of dinner: pasta, salad and tangerines.
"It was a great reminder of how important community is in a school," said Hockett.
Community members also came together to help more than two dozen children from Oak View Elementary School, who weathered the storm inside a stranded bus instead of a classroom.
Their bus was headed home to Clifton when it was caught, unable to move forward because of a pool of standing water and unable to go back because of a fast-rising stream rushing over the road.
Roy Barrett, a 34-year-old Clifton resident who was out running errands, stopped to offer help and became an accidental angel.
He let the children use his phone to call their frantic parents. He brought them bottled water and shepherded the bus through standing water to the town of Clifton, where the children were allowed to disembark and -- finally -- use the bathroom at the Clifton Town Hall.
Barrett waited with the bus driver and kept parents updated by cell phone as they wended their way to Clifton. The last child left the town hall shortly before 8 pm, four hours after Barrett first encountered them.
"I didn't want them to feel like they were stranded, you know?" he said.
Rob Jones, the parent of an 8-year-old third-grader who had been on the bus, said he and other parents were concerned that they had not been able to get accurate information about their children's whereabouts from school officials, and had instead found themselves relying on a good samaritan's cellphone.
— Emma Brown
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Huntington residents tired of being flooded
A number of Huntington residents along Arlington Terrace, closest to Cameron Run, said the flood of 2006 was higher, and the water stayed longer. But the end result was the same: Yellow stickers from Fairfax County indicating the house was only temporarily accessible, soon to be completely shut down; or green stickers, meaning the house was still inhabitable.
Most of the homes on the north side of Arlington Terrace had yellow stickers, meaning their gas would be turned off and their meters taken down, and the house could not be re-entered until new utilities were installed and then inspected by the county."And the last time that happened," Sherry Hurd said, "it was weeks" before she could go back into her home.
An anonymous good samaritan had come along and allowed residents, including Alvaro and Celia Sonora, to hook up their sump pumps to his gas-powered generator. The water was pouring out of their basement from the pumps, and had been up to the ceiling Thursday night, Alvaro Sonora said.
But he said he had gone to the community meetings after the Huntington floods of 2006, and "they told us they fixed it. But evidently, it's not fixed. This can't happen like this again."
Trevor O'Neill said he took his dog for a walk around 7 p.m. Thursday. When he came back 45 minutes later, his front yard was flooded and his dog had to swim to the front porch. "I was just shocked at how fast it happened." His huge blue Dodge pickup truck was swamped with water. "The water just poured out of there," he said after opening it. "Once it got in there, it stayed in there."
— Tom Jackman
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Officials tour Huntington, but have no easy answers
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair Sharon Bulova walked down a messy Huntington area street Friday at midday to assure residents that the county was listening. Sen. Mark Warner also toured the area. Five years ago, when the last flood swamped the neighborhood, there was discussion about building a multimillion-dollar berm to protect the homes from future floods, but nothing was resolved.
"All of discussions about that indicated it would be quite expensive, and there were questions about whether it would be effective, and who would pay for it," Bulova said. "The county does not have those kinds of funds available for major improvements... and there were questions about who was culpable, given the state and federal work on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. I'm sure we'll have more of a discussion about this tomorrow at the town meeting."
A town meeting has been set for 9 a.m. Saturday at Walt Whitman Middle School. In addition, a the community center, local government agencies and nonprofit organizations such as the Red Cross were providing aid.
About 100 homes were being inspected Friday by teams of Fairfax County building and electrical officials, who either allowed residents to return to their homes, or "yellow-tagged" the home, meaning the residents had to have contractors examine electrical, plumbing or structural damage. County permits for that work would be free to Huntington flood victims, officials said.
Most of the damage appeared to be electrical or structural, officials said. By mid-afternoon, none of the homes had been red-tagged, in which residents were barred from returning.
— Patricia Sullivan