Fairfax County has identified just over $2 million in damages and other expenses resulting from rain that flooded the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region on July 8.
The storm dropped between two and six inches of rain on different parts of the county with the heaviest participation concentrated in the eastern and northeast areas, Fairfax County Emergency Management Coordinator Seamus Mooney told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on July 30 when delivering an update on the county’s response to the disaster.
The rain led to flooding that damaged roads, homes, and businesses, its impact extensive enough that the Board of Supervisors voted on July 16 to declare a local emergency in order to seek state and federal assistance for recovery and clean-up efforts.
“For our warning to people about ‘turn around, don't drown,’ in this case, the water came to people,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said, referencing the county’s mantra advising drivers to avoid flooded roads. “We heard over and over again folks who wound up having to be rescued by our public safety. So, it really was an unprecedented rain event for us.”
Around 8:30 a.m. on July 8, the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management got its first call from the National Weather Service warning that a potentially catastrophic event could bring a projected four inches of rain in the next hour.
However, by that time, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department had already received multiple calls for service from people trapped by floodwaters, according to Mooney.
Fire and Rescue personnel ultimately performed 56 swift water rescues between 8:20 and 11:45 a.m. that day, and mobile home residents in the 3400 block of Moon Street in Hybla Valley had to be evacuated.
The National Weather Service issued a total of six flash flood warnings for Fairfax County, including the first flash flood emergency that Mooney says he has seen in his two-decade-long career in emergency management.
Flooding forced several road closures throughout the day, including Maple Avenue in the Town of Vienna, Westmoreland Street off Interstate 66 in Falls Church, and a portion of Georgetown Pike.
While the majority of roads were reopened within the next day or two, Virginia Department of Transportation flood repair crews took until July 25 to complete work on Prosperity Avenue and 11 other streets in McLean, the hardest-hit part of Fairfax County.
Kirby Road and Swinks Mill Road over Scotts Run remain closed after sustaining extensive damage that requires long-term repairs.
According to a VDOT update from July 25, several hundred feet of asphalt approaching the Swinks Mill Road bridge were damaged, as was asphalt on the bridge deck and the bridge’s guardrails, abutments, and retaining wall.
Flood waters washed away a segment of Kirby Road south of Claiborne Drive, undermining the remaining asphalt and damaging the asphalt, guardrails, deck legs, and retaining wall of a VDOT bridge over Pimmit Run.
VDOT has recorded $6 million of road damage resulting from the July 8 rain storm, including $4 million for Kirby Road alone, according to Mooney.
Because the damaged roads are supported by state highway funds, Fairfax County cannot add those expenses to its request for federal assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“It is somewhat challenging,” Mooney said, noting that Fairfax County must record a minimum of $4 million in damage in order to be eligible for FEMA’s public assistance grant program.
Fairfax County has also joined several nearby jurisdictions to apply for a formal disaster declaration from the Federal Small Business Administration, which provides low-interest loans to businesses, renters, and homeowners in regions affected by declared disasters.
To be eligible for a disaster declaration from the SBA, a jurisdiction must have at least 25 properties determined to be 40 percent damaged or more. It can also be deemed eligible if it is contiguous to a jurisdiction that meets that criterion.
According to Mooney, Arlington County completed its initial damage assessment first and found 30 buildings that were significantly damaged, so if it is eligible for relief from the SBA, Fairfax County could benefit as well.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam sent a letter to the SBA requesting a formal disaster declaration on July 23, but as of July 30, the Commonwealth had not received a response.
Mooney says the SBA typically takes one or two weeks to make a decision, and the federal agency is likely dealing with a full docket of work with floods overwhelming the Midwest in June and Louisiana recovering from Tropical Storm Barry, which made landfall on July 13.
If Fairfax and Arlington receive a formal disaster declaration, the Small Business Administration will establish disaster loan outreach centers, or DLOCs, that residents and business owners can visit to apply for a loan.
Fairfax County has already reserved space in Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library in Falls Church to set up a DLOC as early as next week. Mooney told the Board of Supervisors that he expects a declaration to be made by Aug. 12 at the latest.
The SBA will also accept online loan applications for a six-month period.
Fairfax County is encouraging residents to submit damage reports to the Office of Emergency Management’s Disaster Damage Database System in order to assist the county in assessing the extent of the damage caused by the July 8 rain and flooding.
Mooney reported on Tuesday that, as of July 29, homeowners had recorded 277 entries totaling an estimated $6.8 million in damages in the disaster damage database.
While Fairfax County is still recovering from July 8, the Board of Supervisors highlighted the need for the county’s government and residents alike to prepare for future weather challenges.
Prior to delivering his update on the July 8 storm, Mooney and other Office of Emergency Management staff joined the board as they passed a proclamation designating September as Emergency Preparedness Month.
September has historically been Virginia’s worst month for hurricanes, according to Mooney, whose three main tips for preparing in case of a disaster are to make a plan, have an emergency kit, and stay informed.
The Huntington Levee that the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services constructed earlier this year by Cameron Run in Alexandria “made a huge difference” in protecting nearby communities from flooding during the July 8 storm, according to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck.
However, the National Weather Service still recorded a rise in water levels at Cameron Run of more than seven feet over 30 minutes, WTOP reported on July 19.
Fairfax County did not experience any casualties in the July 8 rain event, but Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross expressed frustration with the amount of time that the process of obtaining federal disaster relief takes.
“People need help now, and I'm very concerned about some of the folks in my district whose houses were damaged so badly that they had to move out,” Gross said.
Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, who represents the McLean area, noted that, while the scale of damage from July 8 is unusual, he regularly receives complaints about flooding and storm water management from constituents.
He also noted that the neighborhoods that tend to encounter the most flooding and water issues are ones that have lost tree cover due to development.
Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith echoed her colleague’s sentiment, saying that the board needs to be careful about approving property developments in areas of the county that have been designated as floodplains.
Floodplains are intended to serve as natural storage for overflow from adjacent streams during or after a storm, according to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.
Foust was scheduled to visit a community on Thursday where people’s houses were destroyed by the July 8 flooding.
“I know for a fact that we’ve been challenging and questioning the storm water infrastructure in that community for years,” Foust said. “We’ve got to get serious about this. Resiliency, given what’s happening with the climate, has got to be a priority.”