Dozens Of People Had To Be Rescued Amid Emergency Flash Flooding

By Rachel Sadon posted July 8-9th, 2019 on dcist.com

Flooding submerged cars in the Waverly Hills neighborhood of Arlington

Tyrone Turner / WAMU

This story was last updated at 4:18 p.m.

One woman was trapped in her car with her six-year-old daughter in the back car seat on Columbia Pike. A man made a phone call from the top of an Audi while floodwaters surrounded the car on Canal Road.

Torrential rainfall washed out many of the normal boundaries between the D.C. area’s rivers and roads this morning, wreaking havoc on the Monday morning commute and inundating homes and cars. Dozens of motorists were rescued amid dramatic flash flooding, though no major injuries appear to have been reported.

The skies have cleared up, and transit systems have resumed regular service. But as the afternoon commute begins, a number of roads remain closed and workers are assessing sinkholes and other major roadway damage.

“It’s going to take a little bit longer to get home tonight. And so we just ask for patience as crews work to reopen roads as soon as possible,” said Chris Rodriguez, the director of D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

The National Weather Service issued a “flash flood emergency,” a rare designation, throughout much of the morning. A flash flood warning was in effect through the early afternoon, and a regular flood warning remains in place until 6 p.m.

Measurements taken at National Airport showed an hourly precipitation rate of 3.3 inches at the height of the downpour, with a total of 3.41 inches over a three-hour period, breaking a 148-year rainfall record for the date.

“I mean, just absolutely crazy. I was leaving for work at like 9:24 or something like that, and I looked out my window from the balcony, and I was like, oh my god, the creek looks like it’s going to flow over,” said Lotta Danielsson, who lives near Four Mile Run in Arlington. She says it quickly overflowed and stranded a parking lot full of cars. “It was so much water, and there were all these big trees coming down the creek as well, at the same time. It was insane.”

Pepco and Dominion Energy initially reported thousands of outages in D.C. and the surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia. As of 2:30 p.m., there were still more than 500 households without power in D.C., 500 in Montgomery County, 160 in Prince George’s County, and more than 800 in Northern Virginia.

The rains also caused flooding at Wilson High School, and students attending summer school there were dismissed to “remediate the ongoing water issues,” according to Ashlynn Profit, deputy press secretary for DCPS. Summer programs were also cancelled at Frederick High School.

Transit service has been restored to the DASH buses (including the Blue Line shuttle), Amtrak has resumed running trains south of Washington, Metrobuses are largely running on time again, and regular service has resumed at Metro’s Virginia Square station.

As the rain came down in torrents this morning, NWS said that the weather “is not the ‘usual’ flooding,” and warned people to seek higher ground and stay off the roads.

Footage shot throughout the D.C. area showed swollen waterways in normally placid creeks and canals. A number of roads and highways were rendered impassable, with drivers stranded in high water.

Around 20 roads were closed in the District, by early afternoon just five remained off-limits to drivers, according to Rodriguez.

By noon, D.C. Fire said it had rescued 15 people from their vehicles. Cars were stranded at Canal Road and Arizona Avenue NW, rescuers used rafts to remove people from cars stuck on Constitution Avenue, officials responded to a stranded motorist near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station in Northeast, and workers rescued people traveling on South Capitol Street.

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DC Fire and EMS@dcfireems

have removed several occupants to safety from cars in high water at 15th St and Constitution Ave NW.

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Fairfax County officials said they responded to 55 calls for swift water rescues, including both drivers and  a number of people in mobile homes. Most of the calls came in from McLean and Vienna, according to Fairfax Fire and Rescue spokesperson Ashley Hildebrandt.

Montgomery County rescue workers completed around 15-20 water rescues, while others made self-rescues, according to spokesperson Pete Piringer.

“We occasionally have flash floods, but we’ve had dozens of water rescues this morning and that is unusual,” Piringer said. “And there’s numerous roads closed, so when the sun comes out, there’s going to be a pretty impressive number of roads damaged by the water.”

At least two sinkholes have already been reported, including major road damage in Potomac and another in Falls Church.

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Pete Piringer@mcfrsPIO

ICYMI – Belfast Rd off MacArthur Blvd, Woodrock/Potomac, road washed away, 1 of several roadways damaged

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Throughout the morning, fire and EMS officials from every major department across the region issued warnings about the dangers of floodwaters.

“We don’t want anyone putting themselves or their families at risk traveling across any water,” said Arlington County Fire spokesperson Ben O’Bryant. “We encourage people, if you’ve got moving water running across your path, to find another route around. It doesn’t take much water, only about 6 inches of moving water to knock down a person, and between a foot and two feet of water can move a small to a large vehicle across the road.”

Metro wasn’t immune to the flooding. Trains were single tracking for much of the morning at Virginia Square, where an indoor waterfall gushed from the roof.

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Niina H. Farah@niina_h_farah

Hey, @EENewsUpdates, I think I’m going to be late for work. @wmata

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Leaks were also reported leaks at Capitol South (that station also saw flooding from the ceiling last year), Foggy Bottom, and the elevator at the Pentagon station.

Meanwhile, one person reported that surge pricing on Lyft had pushed prices past $50 for the three miles from Bloomingdale to Capitol Hill. And at least one scooter company, Lime, is assessing its fleet for damage.

“We pulled some of our fleet off the roads and we redeployed scooters in areas to move them to areas not affected by flooding,” said Russell Murphy, communications manager for Lime.

Flooding and property damage have been reported around the region, including at least one building that partially collapsed.

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DC Fire and EMS@dcfireems

Update Barnaby Terrace SE partial structural collapse. Collapse of bottom rear wall into basement after being undermined by water. Original structure and those on both sides evacuated. requested @dcra building inspector. Those displaced have alternative housing.

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Ajani Husbands made the commute from McLean to D.C. by 8 a.m. And then the text messages started coming in from his housekeeper, who had to move valuables out of the basement as about an inch of water seeped in.

“While I’m getting the photos, the live updates from home, I’m looking out my window [at work] and I’m just seeing crazy amounts of rain going on outside. This is very clearly more rain than we’re used to seeing at a specific time,” he said.

Even the White House basement flooded.

And pointing to the sewage overflow at Navy Yard, the Anacostia Riverkeeper warned people to be careful around groundwater today.

DC Water spokesperson Pamela Mooring said drinking water is purchased from the Washington Aqueduct, which draws from Potomac river upstream, so there’s no risk of contamination of tap water. But she said there’s undoubtedly been some combined sewage overflow due to today’s flash flooding.

“We do suggest that folks don’t come in contact with the receiving waters of combined sewer overflows for 72 hours after the overflow,” Mooring said. “There can be bacteria and trash in that water, so you really want to avoid skin contact.”

The agency worked to clear stormwater from South Capitol Street, according to DC Water’s Vincent Morris, who added that the pump worked, but was “overwhelmed by volume.”

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Vincent Morris@VincentMorris

Unprecedented downpour but @dcwater crew working aggressively to clear stormwater from the underpass as quick as possible @wusa9 @nbcwashington @fox5dc @ABC7News @WTOP @DCist @capitalcommnews

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There were no reported issues related to flooding at the National Zoo—animals and facilities were unaffected by the historic downpour.

“As of right now, the biggest impact is just less humans coming to the zoo,” Annalisa Meyer, deputy communications director at Smithsonian’s National Zoo, said this afternoon.

Meyer said the heavy rain shouldn’t be a problem for the zoo’s brand new sea lion pup. They tend to like wet weather.

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