DC Council member wants to remedy ‘city failure’ in flood-prone areas

The devastating flash flood that killed 10 dogs at a pet day care and left many unfortunate D.C. motorists stranded has caused a resounding demand for answers to a problem that has plagued Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast for years.

Among those seeking answers is Ward 5 Council member Zachary Parker, whose district includes that particular part of the city.

“What I’m facing is a city failure,” Parker told WTOP. “One that has existed for many years.”

Parker said Tuesday that he has requested information from several agencies, including D.C. Fire and EMS and the Office of Unified Communications, which operates the city’s 911 system. Parker also wants DC Water to answer questions about its maintenance of storm drains and catch basins in the region.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, DC Water said a tunneling project is already underway and is expected to be completed by September.

“The Northeast Boundary Tunnel, which runs directly under Rhode Island Ave, will help mitigate flooding at a number of areas like this with chronic flooding,” the utility said.

When it comes to dispatchers, Parker said he’s aware of claims that there may have been a delay in the dispatch time.

“I am aware of those allegations that there may have been up to a 15-minute lag time between when first calls were made from District Dogs to authorities arriving on scene,” Parker said.

Parker added there are also allegations that 911 calls may have been classified incorrectly as a water leak instead of serious flooding. The 911 concerns were first reported by public safety advocate and former reporter Dave Statter.

“That might have made the difference, and fewer people having to be rescued from cars, or fewer animals dying as a result of drowning,” Parker said.

WTOP has reached out to the Office of Unified Communications for comment.

Seeking the full picture

Parker said he wants a timeline from the fire department regarding how fast units arrived and where they were sent.

“While I don’t want to jump to conclusions, we are seeking answers and requesting information so that we can just really get to the bottom of this and make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” Parker said.

He said what happened Monday should also prompt a conversation on how permitting takes place in the city. This includes making sure businesses in flood-prone areas are aware of the risks.

“There should be steps to ensure that we aren’t putting … a caretaking business in that type of location,” Parker said.

This is not the first time the dog day care has seen flooding, and owner Jacob Hensley told NBC Washington that after previous floods, he was told it was safe to reopen by city officials.

MRP Realty, the company that owns the building, told WTOP in a statement that it is working with the authorities to try to fully understand what happened.

“We are deeply saddened over the devastating flash flooding incident at District Dogs on Rhode Island Ave., NE. We share in the sorrow of the pet owners and their families affected by this tragic event and we extend our sympathies to them,” the statement read.

The company didn’t respond to requests for information about what was done in response to previous flooding at the building, saying it “will hold further comment” until it learns more about what took place.

In the short term, Parker said he has reached out to D.C. Police and the District Department of Transportation to be positioned to be able to close down flood-prone roadways more quickly.

“We will keep that same posture moving forward, as we try to find answers as to what actually happened,” Parker said.

The city will also look at ways to help the dog day care, those who lost animals and others impacted by the flooding that occurred, Parker said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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