- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

D.C. residents are wondering who will pay to clean up the mess caused by heavy storms over the weekend, as local and federal officials yesterday began assessing damage and issuing warnings about health concerns because of sewage spills.
The weekend storms came in from the northwest dropping 2 to 3 inches of rain in their wake causing flooded streets, manhole explosions, and a 20-foot sinkhole. Excess water traveled downhill from Allegany County, Md. swelling the Potomac River and its tributaries, damaging bridges, causing mudslides, and forcing 29,000 gallons of water into the D.C. sewer system leading to sewage overflows.
"We have over 1,200 homes reporting flooding from sewage overflows with thousands of dollars in damage each, and we have a backlog that we are still working to compile," said D.C. disaster recovery manager Steve Charvat.
"It's devastating, horrendous what am I supposed to do? I don't have anywhere to go; my fridge and couch were floating," said a distraught Amanda Reneau, 25, a nursing student at the University of the District of Columbia, who doesn't have sufficient insurance coverage. She wonders if there is any help on the way from the federal government.
State Farm Insurance agent Earle L. White said he has about 10 clients with sewage drain problems. "Nobody in this area has flood insurance and many don't have sewage and drain protection either," said Mr. White.
"Homeowners' policies don't always cover sewage and drain back-ups, but most companies provide the coverage as a rider to home insurance policies," he said.
Miss Reneau's story is one of thousands of similar stories from residents around the city, and exactly the sort of thing the D.C. Emergency Management Agency wants representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to hear as they gather information for a preliminary report.
From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. yesterday, two assessment teams from the FEMA toured 300 homes and businesses. Using the conjoined Seventh Street and Georgia Avenue Northwest as the dividing line, the teams— each made up of agents from FEMA, D.C. Emergency Management, the Small Business Administration, D.C. Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and D.C. Human Services— covered the area most affected both east and west.
Steve Adukaitis, FEMA assessment team leader explained the process: "First, we will go to the high-impact areas, where the worst damage was done. This is just a preliminary look at what happened; we are not getting any dollar figures now. We are getting a feel for what the damage is and what needs to be done."
One resident visited by the teams, Douglas Nelson, 64, whose basement apartment on First and Thomas Streets NW was flooded with sewage, wanted to know the risks of illness and how he could combat them.
"The primary diseases to worry about are bacterial, dysentery and hepatitis A," said Theodore Gordon, chief operating officer for the D.C. health department, which is warning residents to be cautious and use common-sense when cleaning up to avoid bacterial infections. He explained that bacteria needs time, temperature and moisture to thrive.
"People should bring in fans to dry out those areas while they clean, using detergent and afterward swath the area down with an anti-bacterial agent, like ammonia," Mr. Gordon said.
The health department has been distributing fliers explaining the importance of using protective gloves, boots and goggles, along with some tips on how to sanitize areas affected by sewage overflows. Yesterday 50 Red Cross volunteers began distributing cleaning kits containing gloves, disinfectants and other products to residents.
"The Red Cross declared a Level 4 disaster relief effort. We have five emergency response vehicles coming in and more volunteers coming in from all over the country to aid in case management, cleaning and any other needs that residents have," said D.C. Red Cross spokeswoman Carrie Martin.
The storm has created overtime opportunities for trash haulers with the D.C. Department of Public Works. Crews are expected to be busy for days collecting damaged carpeting, mattresses and other materials fouled by floodwaters and raw sewage.
Public Works spokeswoman, Mary Meyers said they will send extra trucks to help collect the materials. She also said city officials are considering equipping personnel with special work gloves, face masks and other gear to protect workers from germs.
Justin Park contributed to this article.

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