- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and representatives from seven local and national agencies mobilized volunteers and began cleanup operations yesterday in the wake of heavy weekend rainstorms that flooded the area and dumped raw sewage in the homes of some D.C. residents.
While awaiting a response from the White House to his official request for disaster aid, Mr. Williams led 120 volunteers in cleaning up homes and removing debris from a five-block radius in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Ward 5.
The mayor's request for emergency relief for residents and small businesses was the first ever made in the city's history.
"Today we are officially making the request, but this isn't about the federal money, or the damage costs; it's about our people coming together and helping each other," said Mr. Williams.
Three hot lines were set up — two by the District and one by the D.C. chapter of the American Red Cross — to provide information on how to file claims with the D. C. Emergency Management Agency, to volunteer for cleanup, and to offer information about health risks.
Mr. Williams recommends that residents call any of the three hot lines in area code 202 — 727-1000 to file claims, 727-8028 to get help or volunteer, or the Red Cross hot line at 728-6401, which provides the same information as the other two.
While Mr. Williams discussed the cleanup efforts during a press conference at Mount Bethel Baptist Church in Northwest, some residents blamed the city and the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority for not doing their part.
In the neighborhood where James Meyers has lived for 15 years, near Flagler Place where the cleanup volunteers began, curb flower decorations and backyard gardens were wiped out by high waters, and one resident suffered the disaster of having his dog drown in a flooded basement.
"Flagler Place used to be Flagler Creek, and I'll bet that the places hardest hit with high water are along former waterways that have been filled in over time and forgotten," explained Mr. Meyers, who said he is fascinated with D.C. history.
Authentic, hand-made African instruments, costumes, Ghanian kente clothe and artworks belonging to Assane Konti, director of the Kankouran Dance Co., were ruined and irreplaceable.
"I returned from a performance in Gainesville, Fla., to find my basement covered in filthy water. I'll have to send everything to Senegal in West Africa to be repaired, because the wood doesn't grow here," said Mr. Konti.
The D.C. Department of Health stepped up its efforts yesterday, deploying three additional mobile health vans— called Orions— and producing more literature to inform city residents on avoiding disease from sewage and floodwaters.
"We can't control once-in-50-years acts of nature, but I am pleased with our response time and street presence," said Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks, health director.
"Our Unity Health Care partners will do basic health screenings in the vans and distribute literature on healthiest cleaning methods until 9 p.m. every night for as long as needed."
Some 150 volunteers from all parts of the country were brought in yesterday by the Red Cross, which declared the District a Stage-4 natural disaster on Tuesday. The organization has spent more than $400,000 since Monday for relief efforts in the District, and served 1,856 meals and snacks donated by the D.C. Central Kitchen.
"We will be providing a shelter at the Marie H. Reed Community Center at 2200 Champlain St. for people displaced, distributing cleaning kits, and distributing vouchers for food, clothing and even furniture for as long as needed," said Carrie Martin, a Red Cross spokeswoman.
Other agencies providing volunteers for yesterday's mop-up were the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Neighborhood Coordination Committee and the Alliance of Concerned Black Men.
After surveying 320 damaged homes on Tuesday, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, who were supposed to remain in town yesterday to inspect roadways and other infrastructure, returned to Pennsylvania..
"They told us that they had seen enough, and went back to Region 3 headquarters in Philadelphia this morning," said D.C. Emergency Management Agency Director Peter LaPorte.
That bodes well for the city's chances at getting some federal aid and "the support from Eleanor Holmes Norton, even on her vacation, is a big help also," said Mr. Williams.

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