- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

Utility companies say the power is on, but government officials throughout the Washington region cannot explain why fallen trees will not be removed for weeks to come.

As of yesterday, Montgomery County road crews were still clearing streets of debris from Hurricane Isabel. Officials said the Department of Public Works and Transportation has been working around the clock since the storm hit the region Sept. 18.

Esther Bowring, a county spokeswoman, said crews would likely need two or three more weeks to complete the task.

In the District, the Foxhall neighborhood remains cluttered with fallen trees. A sidewalk at Q Street and Foxhall Road is blocked with a fallen tree as high as Janet L. McElligott’s waist.

“It cannot be jumped,” she said. “You have to go into the street.”

Miss McElligott, 42, said residents have cleared most of the debris instead of waiting for city crews, but sidewalks in the 1500 and 1600 blocks of Foxhall Road are still littered with trees and limbs.

“Why pay high property taxes and not receive city services?” she asked. “It stops making you wonder why people [move] somewhere else.”

Several government officials said debris removal is slow because insurance companies are still surveying the damage to private properties.

The remaining 485 metropolitan area customers without power last weekend had their electricity restored yesterday, 12 days after the hurricane’s high winds sent trees toppling into power lines. In the aftermath, about 1.3 million customers around the region were without power.

Dominion Virginia had 724,816 customers across the state without power, Baltimore Gas and Electric had about 650,000, and Potomac Electric and Power Company had about 497,000.

“We’re just doing the normal things now,” said Sharon Sasada of BGE, which at one point had more than 10,000 customers without power in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Bob Dobkin of Pepco said the company received calls only about spot outages yesterday and that none was related to the hurricane.

Dominion Virginia Power has restored power to all 248,000 customers in Northern Virginia. Now the Dominion crews that restored power are among the 12,000 repairmen from Maryland and the District going to the Richmond and Tidewater areas to help restore power to 92,000 people still without electricity.

Arlington County crews will need about two weeks to clear storm debris because residents have yet to bring much of it to the curbs to be picked up, said Randy Bartlett of the county’s public works department.

Carl Newby, director of the county’s solid-waste disposal, said crews have been working 12-hour days.

“We hope to have it cleaned up by Saturday,” he said.

One problem, he said, is the county has too many wood chips from shredded trees, which can combust if piled too high. The county needs more disposal sites.

In Prince George’s County, cleanup is expected to be completed by Oct. 10, said Delphine Shepard, spokeswoman for the county’s public works department.

County officials said they spent $2 million for emergency services and cleanup efforts. Public works and transportation crews worked 12-hour shifts for four straight days and used 25 contractors to help cut trees.

Residents who still have storm debris should take it to drop-off sites in the 3200 block of Cool Spring Road, the 7600 block of Jefferson Avenue, the 7200 block of Dock Road and 100 block of Swan Creek Road East.

Trees and limbs from private properties must be sawed to manageable size before municipal crews can remove them. But laws vary among local governments for fallen trees that remain on private property.

“If a tree falls on public space like the street, the District will clear it away, up to the private property line,” said Mary Myers, D.C. Public Works spokeswoman.

In Arlington County, tree cuts can be no longer than 10 feet and no more than four trees can be piled on the curb for pickup.

Residents in Arlington and Prince George’s County who fail to clear debris from their properties will be notified by government officials about resolving the problem.

Cleanup is more complicated in Fairfax County, where routine trash collection was canceled immediately after Isabel.

“We’ve been encouraging residents to clean up as soon as possible now,” said Mernie Fitzgerald, a county public-information officer.

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Gov. Mark Warner discussed post-Isabel efforts yesterday with his Cabinet and praised the state’s response to the storm.

“It’s a miracle that we only had 28 fatalities,” he said. “With some of the damage I have seen in the past week, it very easily could have been 10 times that. We were very lucky.”

Mr. Warner said 800 homes were destroyed statewide and 8,500 damaged.

The Virginia seafood industry contributed about $650 million last year to the state’s economy, but that figure will be much smaller this year, officials said.

Besides the spoiled seafood in freezers and coolers without electricity, losses will include reduced catches, less revenue from restaurants, and damaged or destroyed boats and other marine equipment.

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A Rockbridge County, Va., man was so upset with the flood damage to his home along the South River that he set it on fire.

Donnie Clark alerted the fire department that he put diesel fuel in the four-bedroom home where he’d lived for 15 years, then ignited it.

“I burned my house down,” Mr. Clark said. “I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore.”

South River flooding spawned by Hurricane Isabel made the home in the Midvale community uninhabitable. The hurricane caused damage in the area estimated at $7 million.

The close-knit community about 20 miles northeast of Lexington has relied on its own resources and an outpouring of aid in the hurricane’s aftermath.

The Salvation Army set up a mobile kitchen soon after the flooding to supply meals to the estimated 500 families affected by the storm.

The storm left about 20 families homeless. They found temporary shelter with relatives, friends or at motels. Officials are trying to help them find permanent homes.

Volunteers from the American Red Cross have been driving up and down South River Road, taking meals to homes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened an office at Mountain View Elementary School, which has served as an aid station since the flooding.

Mr. Warner, who visited the area last week, told the state Department of Social Services to try to find immediate funding for Midvale residents.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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