Investigation of Cause Might Take 6 Months, Officials Say

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 7, 2006

Fairfax County officials told flooded-out residents last night that a federal investigation into what caused the severe damage to dozens of homes could begin as early as next week but would take at least six months to complete.

Residents of Arlington Terrace, perhaps the worst-hit community in the Washington area during last week's record rains, have demanded an investigation into whether nearby construction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, or perhaps development upstream, was to blame in the flooding, which seriously damaged more than half the neighborhood's 311 homes, causing about $10 million in losses. The adjacent Cameron Run stream has overrun before, but residents say they have never seen anything as intense and sudden as last week's flooding, which ran as deep as 10 feet.

At a neighborhood meeting last night, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors member Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) told residents that the county would approve a contract next week commissioning the Army Corps of Engineers to study the flooding, but he warned that it is "not going to be a short period of time" before an inquiry is finished.

Some residents were not satisfied. Geoff Livingston, 34, collected more than 100 signatures demanding that the state commission an independent investigation by engineers who do not have a stake in area projects.

"We want someone that can look at this objectively. Everyone else has a vested interest in declaring this is not their fault," he said.

Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said that he believes the Corps of Engineers was up to the task but that he was open to considering a different inquiry.

"Fairfax County is just as eager as this community to have an answer. This cost us taxpayer money, and these are my citizens," he said. "While there was a lot of water, we shouldn't have had a five-foot wave come up Cameron Run. Something happened, and we need to know what occurred and what we can do to prevent it in the future."

Estimates of the number of vacant homes vary. County officials say about 70 homes remain without power and uninhabitable, but residents say more than 100 are empty. Two homes that were initially condemned have been upgraded to salvageable.

Residents applauded Red Cross and county officials for providing food and expediting building permits and thanked inmates who have helped with cleanup. Red Cross aid for motels for displaced residents expired yesterday, but the county will continue to pay for the neediest residents.

People were frustrated about the wait for assistance in paying for the thousands of dollars in uninsured repairs that many homes need. County officials said they hope to hear next week whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency will award aid to residents.

Everald Harrison, 59, said he has been doing his best to repair his home with the help of his son, an electrician. But the house is in bad shape, and he said he was sorry that his wife, whose Red Cross motel aid ran out, has to move back in before it is ready.

"The home still don't smell like no home," he said. "It still stinks, in spite of all I'm doing."

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