Donett and Richard Murphy had just moved to Sterling in eastern Loudoun County two months ago and were in the midst of major renovations on their 30-year-old California rambler-style house when they were hit with nearly 11 inches of rain in 21 days.
Water trickled down basement walls and from kitchen cupboards, flooding the un-roofed attic and collapsing two first-floor ceilings.
Without being asked and with no thought of repayment, residents of the long-established development of Arlkeith began to arrive at the Murphys with hot meals, buckets for bailing and a lot of moral support.
"Neighborliness is alive and flourishing just 30 miles from urban D.C.," said Donett Murphy. "These folks have made us believe that this is our community now, too."
The Murphys had fallen in love with the wooded acre of land that came with the house and had bought it with an eye toward transforming it into a split foyer colonial.
They hired Stan Chizz, a Falls Church contractor, who began work Aug. 31. The Murphys and their daughters Kelley and Katy watched with growing excitement as the walls came tumbling down.
"Then the rains came -- and they came and they came and they came," Donett Murphy recalled with a shudder. "It would stop for a day or two and then start again. There were times when I just wanted to give up the whole thing."
What kept the Murphys going, they say, were such people as their neighbors, Floyd and Dorothy Martin, who "practically moved in and adopted us," Richard Murphy said.
Dorothy Martin never cooked without making enough to feed the Murphys, and hot home-baked goodies were always on the menu.
Floyd Martin kept an eye on the house every time the Murphys had to be away, joined the bucket brigade when the house flooded and helped install wiring on the dry days.
"I'm thinking of going into plastics," said Richard Murphy, who reports that the family used 16,300 square feet of the stuff during the soggy crises. "I'm thinking of starting a rainmaking service with Dick," said Chizz. "Dick can go around the country and buy houses, I'll take the roofs off and presto -- rain."
Today the Murphys can smile about Sept. 8, "the worst day we had" when five inches of rain fell in 24 hours.
The family had been through several drills to prepare for a storm. The Murphys were in Washington on business -- she is a computer consultant and he sells specialty industrial chemicals -- and Kelley and Katy were home when they saw it coming. "We knew it was the big one," Katy said.
Another neighbor, Joy Allen, and her sons, Ben, 9, and Ryan, 13, rushed over to help bail out the house until reinforcements arrived. The Murphy girls built lean-tos out of plastic and the Martins arrived with umbrellas to save the computers the Murphys use in their at-home businesses.
When the living room ceiling finally collapsed under the weight of all that water, Stan and Maryanne Chizz, who have become close friends with the Murphys, shoveled the mushy plaster out the front door onto the muddy front lawn.
When the Murphys decided to observe the old European custom of stopping the work to celebrate when construction reached the "top of the structure," it was Allen who made up a "survival kit."
Among the items were a pair of underwater goggles labeled "leak inspection gear," a rubber duck Allen tagged "a stress reducer," a hard hat for Richard Murphy and a box of bubble bath "when all else fails."
The Murphys are living in their basement while the rebuilding is going on, but they say they can "see" the finished house even though the second floor is little more than two-by-fours and sawdust. Looking out of any window at any level, one sees the trees, still in full leaf.
But the trees are only the second most important reason for staying in the house on Oak Lane. "The neighbors are the first," Richard Murphy said. "I can't imagine ever leaving here now."