Neighbor Ken Sands sent this harrowing account of a pedestrian’s rescue from a flash flood on Albemarle at 32nd Street:
What appeared to be a “normal” thunderstorm the evening of May 31 became life-threatening for a retirement-aged woman who fell into the deep rushing water on the Albemarle Street roadway just east of Connecticut Avenue in Forest Hills. About an inch of rain fell during the course of the entire rain event, with a significant portion of that falling in a downpour between 6:30 and 7 p.m. At that point, the eastbound lane of Albemarle was impassible for cars because of the depth of the water. Westbound cars moved slowly around the churning water.
The unidentified woman had fallen in the deepest part of the pooled water in the roadway, near the curb and storm drain of the eastbound lane. Although she wasn’t in imminent danger of being hit by a car, she was in danger of being swept under by the rushing water which reached half-way up her back.
Soaked and clearly terrified, she cried out to me: “I can’t get up!” as I crept by in the westbound late, wondering at first what was happening. I immediately put on my emergency flashing lights, and pulled ahead of the parked cars to get my car out of the roadway and help.
By then, a couple of 20-something men began wading through the water to rescue her. That was a relief to me. Still recovering from major leg surgery, I wasn’t going to be her best chance at survival.
It’s a shocking reminder, though, of the power of water. Such rainstorms are common in D.C., and no one expects to get knocked down in a flash flood while crossing a residential street.
So how could this happen?
There are five storm drains at Albemarle and 32nd Streets. The four largest drains, each of them about 14 feet wide, are on the north side of the intersection. Two are on Albemarle Street to each side of 32nd Street. Two are on 32nd Street where it intersects with Albemarle. And there is one storm drain on eastbound, south side of Albemarle where the woman fell.
Rotate the image to view the four large storm drains on the north side of Albemarle Street, and the single, smaller drain on the south side.
The drain on the south side is only five feet wide, and it appears to be inadequate. During big rain events, massive amounts of stormwater are cascading to this spot on Albemarle from the east and west. This video shows water flowing down 30th Street, then moving westward on Albemarle toward 32nd Street.
As you see above, most of the stormwater is funneled to the south side of Albemarle Street because of the pitch of the roadway. Here’s the water heading to the lone storm drain on the south side of the Albemarle and 32nd Street intersection.
Combine these elements with a heavy downpour and it becomes a dangerous situation for those attempting to cross on foot.