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Breaking News, Uncategorized, Urban

The Great Hurricane Irene Sandbag Craze

Saturday, before the rains got heavy and the winds kicked up, DC residents took their final shots at grabbing a few sandbags provided by the city, passed out to endless lines of cars at one of the side parking lots at RFK stadium.

Culled from almost an hour of footage in the midafternoon, I cut together the highlights and lowlights of the process I observed, which was slow, seemingly overstaffed, and ultimately, a probable big waste of time. I’ve broken the footage into four parts, and here are my thoughts on each.

In part one (above), I walk into the lot, by chance, at the same time that Ward 5 Community Liaison Carl Thomas does, and we share a conversation while walking in between three lines of cars, many with their engines off, just waiting. Earlier reports at that time are that the city had a few thousand bags to handout at Noon, but started early because so many were waiting so early.

Part 2

Due to the early handout, the city ran out, not of sand, but of actual bags to put sand in, so everyone waited until more bags got delivered (most likely on the palettes, I suppose. I only saw sand being brought in, so it’s anyone’s guess). Upon my arrival, I was standing near a WJLA anchor, who I won’t identify, but was snide to say the least. After someone posits that “Guess they saw you’re earlier broadcast”, he claims it to be one of his “tweets” specifically. He then goes on to make some phony, less intelligible point that “this is the problem with twitter” and points to to me and says “you get people like this here.” Yeah, I guy in a pancho with a handheld camcorder. “People like this” don’t deserve to watch a taxpayer-funded operation. Meanwhile, I talk with a few guys who are always watching the operation, who feel the whole experience could be a case study in logistics, until the cars are asked to pull forward to pick up their allotment of 5 now-ready bags. Then, looping back around to the media, you can see a cameraman sticking his camera into drivers faces while a tiny female reporter likely asks them how long they’ve been waiting or what they’ve been doing while they’re waiting. How could I ever have figured anything out without reading Mr. WJLA’s tweets, who, by they way, I don’t follow on Twitter.

Part 3

After observing a few folks physically carrying their bags back to their houses, or, more controversially, to cars parked on side roads near Lot 7, I spot a few women trying to carry the bags. As you can see in the video, I start to move towards them to talk to them, but the blonde NBC4 reporter sees me do this, and moves to cut me off and gets to one of them first. You can hear her say that “we haven’t seen many folks carrying them” even though in my video you just saw a few (and there were others not filmed). I talk to the other women (Debra) as well as the one NBC4 interviewed (Jennifer), then help them carry their bags back to their cars. During this time, about a dozen cops on mountain bikes show up and proceed to do something apparently, although that’s also anyone’s guess. I watched them for a while off camera and they appeared to be instructing people to turn left/right out of the parking lot. Otherwise, there’s no way people would have been able to turn left/right, left to their own decision making. It looked like a classic case of “where are you going?…OK, go ahead.” Also, when we return, the WUSA9 reporter appears to be telling the station that its a two hour wait, not mentioning the walk-ups who did not have to wait much if at all.

Part 4

The white whale of the experience, a cameraman from WUSA9 tells me that a fight broke out while I was helping the women with their sandbags, but doesn’t answer me specifically as to whether it came to blows. To my knowledge, no one caught this altercation on tape, but everyone is talking about it. Finally, one of my friends from the pickup truck (who have done quite well grabbing their own bags), tells me he got a call form the wife requesting he pickup some greens at the farmers market, which amazingly, is still going on in some capacity underneath the Metro overpass. With that, we say goodbye.

As a follow-up, I would ideally like to know if (a) anyone prevented anything with 5 sandbags, and (b) how much the city spent on this operation. While it’s not my contention that government shouldn’t help its citizens, I do question somewhat the point behind this exercise. More importantly, though, having run out of bags twice (counting Friday night), one has to wonder if the city has learned anything about emergency preparedness from the past few winters, or if DC is doomed to be under-equipped going forward.


About manonthestreetdc

Reporting on events in the nation's capital


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