This 100-year-old Ivy City church was also devastated in Monday’s flood. Why is no one talking about it?

August 16, 2023

Courtesy Michael Thompson

When heavy rains led to flash flooding in D.C. on Monday, Rhode Island Avenue Northeast wasn’t the only area to see devastation.

Ten minutes down the road in Ivy City, stormwater mixed with sewage rose from storm drains outside Bethesda Baptist Church. The water would rise to almost 3 feet, stranding a car on nearby Mt. Olivet Road and pouring into the offices of the 100-year-old church.

Pastor Michael Thompson said when he arrived at home Monday night he saw news reports of flooding in Northeast D.C. Since the church had seen five previous floods, he grew concerned.

“I immediately turned around and came back to the church,” Thompson said.

The water had receded when he arrived at the church, but the damage was done. The water seeped into hallways and streamed into offices, including his. It ruined the carpet installed only two years ago after a similar flood in 2020, as well as copy machines that shorted out.

When they entered the building for the first time Tuesday morning, 5 inches of water remained on the floors.

“Tile was completely covered with sewage and mud and debris,” Thompson said. “Here we go again,” is what went through his mind.

Repairs from the 2020 flood cost the church, which can’t get flood insurance, $40,000. Thompson said this flood will cost at least $20,000 to clean up.

Thompson said the last flood was difficult to overcome for the church, which has a working-class congregation with many worshippers living on fixed incomes.

“In the midst of this tragedy, we know testing produces faith; and faith produces perseverance and builds our character as a church,” Thompson said. “But I can tell you folks are disheartened.”

He said because the church is unable to get flood insurance due to previous flooding, it has to rely on donations from those who attend it and others to pay for the repairs.

During the 2020 flood, Thompson said the city only offered the church $5,000 in financial help — the same offered to residential properties.

“We’re hoping that the city will do better this time, and even give us some consideration for the retroactive cost that we’ve incurred,” Thompson said.

Right outside the building, construction is underway for DC Water’s Northeast Boundary Tunnel Project, which is expected to help protect from future flooding. Thompson said the project, which takes up a portion of the church’s property, has been underway for several years.

“We would have liked for it to have been completed earlier. Perhaps this would not have happened,” Thompson said.

Pastor Michael Thompson surveys the flood damage at the church. ((Mike Murillo/WTOP))
The church in Ivy City has flooded six times in its 100-year- history. ((Mike Murillo/WTOP))
Pastor Michael Thompson stands outside Bethesda Baptist Church following a flood. ((Mike Murillo/WTOP))
Ten minutes down the road in Ivy City, stormwater mixed with sewage rose from storm drains outside Bethesda Baptist Church. ((Mike Murillo/WTOP))

Ward 5 Council member Zachary Park toured the church on Tuesday and said he wants to know from DC Water when exactly the tunnel will open.

In message on social media, DC Water said after the tunnel is expected to open by the end of September.

“There’s just a sense of urgency for many parts of the ward around making sure we get to the bottom of what’s happening here,” Parker said.

Thompson said with much of the attention given to the devastating flooding on Rhode Island Avenue, he feels the Ivy City neighborhood was mostly ignored during this recent flood. He believes this area of the city, which is home to many low-income residents and sees higher crime rates, is at times forgotten by city leaders and others during events such as this.

“We would hope that as much attention is given not only to the church, but also to other areas of the city that had been impacted beyond Rhode Island Avenue and District Dogs,” Thompson said.

WTOP has reached out to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office for comment.

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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