Flood in Washington, D.C.

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

IT IS TRULY said that no power on earth can stop the fury of nature. On July 8, just as we started our research in the National Archives of America in Washington, D. C., the heavens opened with “a month’s worth of rain” that “deluged the immediate D. C. area, resulting in its most extreme flooding events in years.”

We left our place in Maryland early morning while the rain was still light but when we went out of the street elevator from the train station in D.C., the downpour was heavy. We stood there at the street elevator and soon the small overhead cover was crowded. Since the Archives building is just behind the Metro elevator, we decided to go there. We found the water in front of the Archives at over street level but we had no choice but to wade and cross.

Just after the usual x-ray check of our things at the Archives, the lights went out and triggered emergency lighting. The guards said they have a generator but soon employees and researchers began to come out. The lobby got crowded, not only from people in the offices and research rooms but also newcomers. For over 30 minutes we waited and then we saw service personnel carrying large tubes. I did not understand what they were for until the news came out that evening – the National Archives Building and Museum was flooded but that the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Bill of Rights were safe. The documents were on public display in connection with the celebration of America’s Independence Day on July 4.

Then our worst fear: the Archives Building was shut down and employees began to leave. Fortunately (if that is a happy thing as our feet were soaked) an official announced that Archives II Grace Park building in Maryland where our research would actually be conducted was open and functional. We decided to go there but the free shuttle bus that brings researchers to College Park can make only one trip. There is no assurance that the service will be resumed thereafter. The driver said that if the employees in Archives I (the main archives in Washington, D. C.) were told to go home the service would stop as well.

The shuttle bus from Maryland ceased operation that afternoon and the following day because of the Archives building and the press working area of the White House’ West Wing, were flooded. Employees tried “to drain puddles of standing water with wet vacs”, news the next day said.

Media reports say that the storm dumped about 6.3 inches of rain in Maryland, 4.5 inches in Arlington and 3.4 inches in Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport but the Capital Beltway got hit with seven feet of water within 30 minutes of the downpour. Several places around the national capital received calls for help. Rescuers in Virginia received 30 calls for “swift river rescues” while other local governments advised people to avoid driving.

Washington’s train transport services, however, continued with little interruptions like delays of up to ten minutes. That is a big deal here where the trains come and go on time; commuters time their trips on the train schedules. The train officials said if the trains were delayed for 10 plus minutes commuters would receive “Rush Hour Promise ride credit” in their ticket cards. That’s how public service means, not a lot of explanations and “force majeure” excuses. But thousands more travel by car and many were stranded.

By one in the afternoon while we were busy in Archives II going through films and photographs, utility crews were already on the job to bring power supply to 10,000 of utility firms customers. But in many areas power could not be restored because “utility crews encountered water levels so high they couldn’t access affected localities.”

In the afternoon when we left Archives II at 3:30, there was no more rain; the water had subsided. But the next day, Archives I was still closed and the shuttle service was still off, so we went by train to Archives II.

The Washington flood only tells us that no place is immune to the vagaries of nature. At least what happened there is a good excuse for our politicians. If floods can hit Washington, so shall we be.