The devastating flooding in Houston has people in the D.C. wondering if something similar could happen here?
A similar event did happen along the East Coast in 1972. At the time, Hurricane Agnes was the costliest storm on record to hit the United States. It made landfall in Panama City, Fla. and roared up the coast, out to sea, and then back onto land, dumping up to 19 inches of rain in Pennsylvania and 12 inches in the Washington, D.C. area.
“The one thing that we found after Agnes is that a lot of rain you think you’re prepared for, but after the ground gets soaked, the water just keeps going up. You don’t have to be in a floodplain, or near that, to see real damage,” said former congressman and former Fairfax County Chairman Tom Davis. He had just gotten out of active duty when his National Guard unit was called up to head to the disaster area in his backyard.
“We got taken out to Prince William County, where was just devastation out there,” said Davis, referring to the bridge over the Occoquan River that the storm took out.
Agnes also collapsed the Lake Barcroft Dam in Fairfax County. When that happened, it sent a wall of water into Cameron Run, nearly killing five Fairfax County firefighters who were trying to rescue people from the flood.
“I came about that close to dying that night,” recalled Larry Jenkins, a retired fire fighter. “All of a sudden, it just threw us up against the house and we couldn’t move.”
The current was so strong, they could not take a step. The first boat that came to rescue them capsized and floated away. The next rescuers threw them a line and they grabbed it.
“Hand-over-hand, came out of the water and we were pretty horizontal,” Jenkins said.
Agnes also overwhelmed the Occoquan Reservoir, knocking out the local water system. People had no running water or electricity for days.
“I worked for the fire department for 37 years and just about every award I ever got was for a water rescue. And I tell you, water scares me to death. I can take a fire any day, but water really scares me,” said Jenkins.
Hurricane Agnes killed 128 people, including 32 in Maryland and Virginia.