U.S. Surveys D.C. Storm Damage; Mayor Seeking Direct Federal Relief for Residents, Businesses
By Andrew DeMillo
Federal Emergency Management Agency workers inspected hundreds of District homes yesterday to assess storm damage, and Red Cross volunteers fanned out across town, distributing vouchers for food and clothing as the city continued mopping up after its worst flooding in more than half a century.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) yesterday afternoon formally asked FEMA for emergency disaster relief for homeowners, renters and business owners, the first time the District has ever made such a request for direct relief to individuals, according to Peter G. LaPorte, director of the city's Emergency Management Agency. He said the aid would include grants and low-interest loans.
"You've got raw sewage in basements," said LaPorte, who spent part of the day helping clean up flooded basements on Seaton Place NW in the Bloomingdale neighborhood off North Capitol Street. "These people need immediate assistance."
The city has received more than 2,600 calls to its hot line reporting flood damage from Saturday's storms.
The District government continued its call for volunteers to help clean up homes and other properties in the city, many of which are inundated with mud and smell. Williams will lead a volunteer cleanup effort this afternoon, beginning at a home in the 2200 block of Flagler Place NW, according to the mayor's office. He will be joined by Red Cross volunteers, Fire Chief Ronnie Few and other city officials.
St. Martin's Catholic Church, at 1908 North Capitol St. NW, will be accepting donations of cash, food, clothing and cleaning supplies all day.
"There's a lot of tough work to be done here," LaPorte said. "We're going to need all the help that we can get."
Yesterday, two teams of FEMA workers surveyed about 350 homes, primarily in Northeast Washington, to assess property damage. Tomorrow, the agency will inspect the District's public buildings, roadways and other infrastructure systems to see whether additional federal assistance is needed, LaPorte said.
Technically, Williams is requesting the assistance from the president, but the request must be submitted through FEMA's regional office in Philadelphia, spokesman Ross Fredenburg said. "It's hard to say how long it will take for this to come through," he said.
FEMA workers were accompanied by officials from the city's health, building inspection and small-business offices as they spot-checked homes. They started at what Williams has called "ground zero" for the flooding -- Rhode Island Avenue NW.
Red Cross volunteers set up several mobile units throughout the city, handing out vouchers for food and clothing and providing cleaning kits for residents. Late last night, the organization opened a temporary shelter at the Marie H. Reed Community Learning Center, at 2200 Champlain St. NW. Carrie Martin, a spokeswoman for the National Capital Chapter of the Red Cross, said it expects to give out at least $300,000 worth of materials and services to flood victims.
"This is now a national disaster," Martin said, adding that Red Cross volunteers "are coming in from all over the country to help."
Potomac Electric Power Co. reported that it had cleared all storm-related power outages as of early yesterday, and city officials said water had receded in most homes. But residents and businesses were still suffering.
Jude Taylor, who lives in the 100 block of U Street NW, had a blow-dryer out yesterday to try to dry a wedding album and legal papers that got soaked when her basement flooded. Her car was totaled by floodwater.
"You have to keep going," she said. "Your life is okay. You weren't hurt at all. You have to keep telling yourself these things -- but that doesn't make it any easier."
Plans for a youth center at 115 Rhode Island Ave. NW, scheduled to open early next month, were scrapped after the space was flooded, damaging thousands of dollars' worth of computers and equipment. The center, operated by the Washington Chiefs youth initiative, would have provided computers for neighborhood youths, said Richard Myles, the minor league football team's chief executive.
About 30 Health Department workers will be deployed throughout the city this week to provide information to residents about disinfecting their homes. Health officials are worried that mosquitoes and rats may be more prevalent because of the flooding, said Sherry Adams, executive director of the city's Office of Emergency Health and Medical Services.
"Whenever you have something of this magnitude, it really invades people's lives," Adams said.
The Department of Public Works expects the number of requests to pick up debris to increase as the weekend approaches, spokeswoman Mary Myers said. She said residents should bag the debris if possible, haul it to their usual spot for garbage collection and phone the District's citywide call center at 202-727-1000.
The city is considering using special gloves and masks to handle the debris, much of which was soaked by sewage. "The stuff is going to get pretty yucky as this wears on," she said.
Steve Charvat, disaster recovery manager for the city's emergency management agency, comparing previous storm damage, said the last local storm "that even compared to this, according to our research, occurred in 1944. We haven't seen anything this big since then."Homeowner Margaret Rouse speaks with Red Cross workers M.J. Lewis, foreground, Genevieve Nixon and Dana Adams.Bobby Burgess carries flood-damaged possessions from a friend's home at Second and T streets NW as the city continues cleaning up in wake of Saturday's storms.Bobby Burgess gives a friend a hand at Second and T streets NW. The District government continued its call for volunteers to help with the cleanup effort.
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