Northeast DC residents still grappling with sewage damage aftermath

The basement of Jessica Sarstedt’s Edgewood home was flooded after the heavy downpour Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. (Courtesy Jessica Sarstedt)

Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday that she is concerned about the health of residents in Northeast D.C. after the surge of sewage during last week’s severe downpour.

She also promised answers to residents’ questions.

“Is it an issue with the storm? Is it an issue with their (DC Water’s) system?” Bowser said. “So one of the first things that DC Water has committed to (is) the backwater valve rebate program, which can prevent sewage from coming up in the house.”

She urged those affected to go to DC Water online to find out more information about the program. And she hopes to have a conversation with them about how the backups happened.

Jessica Sarstedt, who lives in D.C.’s Edgewood neighborhood, said that she was working from home last Thursday afternoon when her basement became covered in more than 6 inches of sewage water.

“I heard water running in my basement. I sprinted downstairs, and it was a geyser of sewage water coming up through the toilet in the basement and then also through the ground drain as well. It was spewing,” Sarstedt said.

Since it was sewage water and not just rainwater, Edgewood resident Jessica Sarstedt said that residents have had to cut and dispose of dry wall, carpeting and even furniture. (Courtesy Jessica Sarstedt)

She said it wasn’t uncommon to see flooding in her area, but when she tried to call for her neighbors’ help, she realized “every single person on this block was experiencing the same thing I was.”

Since it was sewage water and not just rainwater, Sarstedt said that residents have had to cut and dispose of dry wall, carpeting and even furniture.

“You have to act fast,” Sarstedt said. “Everything it touches has to be destroyed. Everything, because of the nature of what this water was.”

“What is concerning is that there are so many elderly neighbors in this neighborhood that don’t have the financial resources and obviously physical strength to get their homes in a safe state as fast as they need to and that’s really concerning,” she added.

And though she said she appreciated Bowser coming to visit the area, Sarstedt was disappointed with the lack of financial commitment from the mayor and DC Water to help the community clean up and rebuild.

“This neighborhood was devastated by the failure of that sewer system,” she said.

Sarstedt is especially worried about the financial toll on her and her neighbors, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many economic situations are already precarious.

“Many people do not have insurance that would cover this, and people who do have insurance are being told that their deductibles are obviously astronomical, in the multiple thousands,” she said.

“We need financial support,” Sarstedt added. “We need help now to clean, rebuild our homes.”

Resident Jennifer Webb shared a video of her home during the flooding on Twitter.

She said she has private insurance coverage and is working to get needed repairs. She added that she’s been in touch with DC Water about the backwater valve rebate program, but that she stood by her neighbors looking for more answers from the utility about what caused the backup.

Webb said she hopes to see both immediate and long-term relief for residents.

Bowser is looking for an after-action report from DC Water.

The mayor said a review with HSEMA will help D.C. “know what exactly happened and what we can do to help prevent neighbors from going through what they experienced, which all of us can empathize and imagine how disturbing a situation that is to have water and sewage backup in your home.”

“We’re all concerned and so we still have to deal with facts,” Bowser said. “We still have to go through all of the steps to understand what happened and how we can be of most help.”

Bowser said residents need to work with their insurance companies to file a claim.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty and Melissa Howell contributed to this report.

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