The Washington Post

Raw sewage floods neighborhood after rain

From his basement condominium, Jared Moffett heard the trouble during Tuesday’s downpour.

“It sounded like a manhole exploded,” the 30-year-old recalled.

Then he saw it: backwater gurgling up from his toilet. And then he smelled it: raw sewage from underground swimming atop his black shag carpet.

“A friend and I were trying to scoop and shovel out the water, but there was no way we could get ahead of it,” said Moffett, who lives in the 500 block of Florida Avenue NW. “Gallons and gallons just coming in at a time.”

The heavy rain that rolled through the region Tuesday evening was no derecho, but the flash flood, more than two inches in some areas, still unfurled a heap of damage in neighborhoods along Rhode Island and Florida avenues NW, including Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park.

For many residents, the pools of dirty water came as no surprise: Once a year or so, they find themselves displaced from their homes and shelling out thousands of dollars for repairs.

The continued flooding has come as a result of an area that has a unique set of problems: As new homeowners have flocked to the neighborhoods’ remodeled rowhouses, one of the city’s oldest sewage and piping systems is showing signs of strain. The neighborhoods are also among the city’s lowest lying.

“When you have a downpour like you had last night, when you get that much water, at that quick of time, the system is not going to be able to handle it,” said Terry Ballamy, director of the city’s transportation department.

City officials said there are a number of initiatives to tackle ­water-flow problems, from adding more trees and “green” roofs to reduce rainwater runoff to a multibillion-dollar project to upgrade the city’s underground plumbing.

For residents such as Moffett, those changes cannot come soon enough. The LeDroit Park civic association plans to meet with D.C. officials Monday to encourage the city to quicken the pace. Because of past flooding, Moffett has already made his changes: His furniture is made of metal frames, and he placed his couch on risers to prevent water damage.

Still, Moffett, who had yet to return home after the flooding, worried that those measures wouldn’t prevent damage to his computer and carpets from the rising sewer water.

Evidence of the flooding’s impact could be seen throughout the neighborhood. A woman set out at least three sodden pairs of boots on her porch. Smelly, soaking carpets were taken outside to dry. Sandbags, meant to stop the flow of water, sat on sidewalks outside basement windows.

Larry Holeman stood at his front step, watching as a cleaning crew tried to carry his carpet from the basement.

“This is going to take $6,000 to fix, and my insurance says they won’t cover it,” said Holeman, 65. “It’s happened so regularly that it’s become a big headache.”

Tim Craig contributed to this report.

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