20 years after Hurricane Isabel, Richmond emergency responders say they are better prepared
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - It was a storm, unlike most others for Central Virginia.
In the overnight hours of Sept. 18, 2003, a Category 1 hurricane named Isabel trekked across the commonwealth with its sights set on metro Richmond.
“Had never seen anything like that, and I remember driving down Chamberlayne Avenue and just seeing trees down in every direction, and it just looked like someone had grabbed up a bunch of trees and just threw them down in the streets,” said Bobby Vincent, City of Richmond Public Works Director.
The current director of Richmond Public Works, Bobby Vincent, was a young engineer 20 years ago.
As he saw firsthand, Richmond was extensively damaged by Isabel.
The aftermath was described as a war zone by many at the time.
More than 70 mph wind gusts brought down thousands of trees and caused an extremely complicated process to clear main roads and reopen neighborhoods.
“We have experienced some things like that since, but Isabel was certainly a learning, a steep learning curve for us here,” said Vincent.
An idea spawned in the wake of the storm, the city’s current debris management program, which helps haul away branches and other items.
The city added 18 large “knucklebone” trucks to get that job done.
But that’s not where the preparedness improvements stopped.
New standard operation procedures are now in place to make sure all departments are on the same page.
“One of the key things that stood out to me was the enormous request for resources throughout the area,” said Anthony McLean, Richmond Deputy Director of the Office of Emergency Management.
Anthony McLean, now deputy director of the city’s office of emergency management, worked for the state during the storm.
Now he says the city is part of a 25-locality alliance that meets monthly to talk about needs, training and funding.
“It’s not a question of if; we all know it’s a question of when. And during these blue skies events, we want to make sure that we are preparing,” said McLean.
Isabel knocked out power to 365,000 in the area for days, killed two in the city and caused about $3 million in damages.
Even with flooding all over the city, Richmond’s flood walls, built back in 1995, were not fully engaged.
“Some operations go unbeknownst to the public, but there can be various events, minor and moderate flood stage in which we have to operate certain areas in our flood wall system,” said Howard Glenn, Operations Manager with Richmond Dept. of Public Utilities.
The flood walls are regularly checked and even inspected by the Army Corps of Engineers.
After Isabel, then-President Bush declared the region a federal disaster area.
Copyright 2023 WWBT. All rights reserved.