Homeowners, Partygoers Swamped

Margaret Goldbloom walks through the parking lot of the Candy Cane playground in Meadowbrook Park off Beach Drive in Chevy Chase, where about 50 cars were flooded and emergency crews rescued people from the floodwaters of Rock Creek.
Margaret Goldbloom walks through the parking lot of the Candy Cane playground in Meadowbrook Park off Beach Drive in Chevy Chase, where about 50 cars were flooded and emergency crews rescued people from the floodwaters of Rock Creek. (By Michel Du Cille -- The Washington Post)
By Allison Klein and Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rosibel and Rutilio Martinez were huddled in their upstairs bedroom when the waters raged through Hyattsville, sweeping over their wooden fence, battering down the back door and rushing through the house to flood the basement.

"The water was up to here," Rutilio Martinez said, his right hand banging the top of his chest.

Several inches of water remained yesterday afternoon, despite hours of pumping and mopping. The ruined basement carpet, waterlogged stereo equipment, mattresses, blankets and assorted other household items made a sodden pyramid in the back yard.

A common lament among yesterday's flood victims was that they'd never had a wet basement, so the business of getting it dried out was all new to them.

Desperate people were lined up a dozen deep outside Bill's True Value Hardware store in Arlington at 8:30 a.m. yesterday when manager Joe Blevins unchained the front door.

"It was like a stampede," he said. "Everything to pump water with was gone within 30 minutes."

Just about every soggy customer who staggered through the door had a basement full of water. The first two people rented water vacuums, and others left with pumps, sand to shore up leaking foundations, window-well covers and the oldest of weapons to combat basement flooding -- mops and buckets.

"In 27 years here, I've never heard anything that bad," said Bill Ploskina, who owns the store on Buchanan Street, just off Lee Highway. "The number of people affected just has to be astronomical."

Rentals Unlimited, an equipment company with five stores across Maryland and Northern Virginia, also was cleaned out of dehumidifiers, turbo-fans, wet-dry vacuums, water pumps and other contraptions used to dry out damp basements.

"These are the things we rely on for revenue, but it's a shame, too," said Jim Joyce, the company's sales manager.

Ploskina said he could have rung up three times as many sales yesterday. As the third or fourth deluge of the past 24 hours rattled down outside late yesterday, he said neither he nor his customers had anywhere else to turn for tools to fight the flood.

"The phones keep ringing off the hook," he said. "Everybody's sold out, and there's no place else to send them. People were coming in first thing this morning and saying 'Everything's gone from Home Depot, Lowes and everywhere else.' "

Ploskina said normally he would get fresh merchandise by Saturday, but he worried that he might not be able to restock his store that quickly.

"This [storm] came moving up from the south, and that's where our warehouses are, so I'm guessing they've been cleaned out too and it may be a while before we get our shipment," he said.

Some homeowners panicked to find water pouring down the sides of their houses from clogged gutters, and in some cases that rain flowed right into their basements.

Sixty-five messages were waiting for Jason Watkins, president of Aerotech Gutter Service, a chain based in College Park, when he arrived at work at 9 a.m. yesterday.

"We consider it an emergency when people call and say, 'Oh, water's dripping from my lights,' or, 'I've got two feet of water in my basement,' " he said. "They want it handled yesterday, not today."


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