Documents Spared in National Archives Flood

Tucked safely within its hermetically sealed chamber, the Declaration of Independence was not at risk when floodwaters infiltrated the National Archives building this week. Other parts of the building, though, were not as protected.

Water from the weekend's heavy rainfall inundated the National Archives and Records Administration building in the heart of the nation's capital.

None of the documents at the Archives were damaged, but large dehumidifiers were brought in to counteract any effect the lack of air conditioning may have had on the documents.

By the end of the repair process, the total bill may amount to $2 million and it may be months before the building can return to its preflood state. The building isn't expected to reopen to the public for another week at the earliest, so Washington, D.C.'s summer tourists will have to wait a little longer.

Rain, Rain Go Away

The flood will affect the Archives' tourism activities. Tim Edwards, the facility manager of the building, said the summer weeks leading up to Independence Day are an especially high traffic period for the Archives.

"Fourth of July is our day," he said. An Archives press release cited the average attendance as 5,000 daily visitors during the summer months.

But the historical documents, which Archives members call "treasures," were spared. The most important of these, like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, automatically retract into the Archives' vaults when the building closes every evening. They were in those chambers when the waters started coming into the building.

"They were never in any kind of danger," spokeswoman Susan Cooper said as she gave the press a tour of the cleanup on Thursday.

On Sunday evening, water came into the building from flooded streets adjacent to the complex and began to fill up the lower levels. There, it began to soak the main electrical equipment in the building, which led to power outages that still plague the Archives.

The Cleanup After the Cleanup

Edwards said the electrical equipment would need to be removed and shipped away for repair or replacement. Other buildings in Washington, including the IRS and some Smithsonian Museum facilities, suffered similar electrical damage because of the rainfall.

The water also found its way into the William G. McGowan Theater, which opened in the Archives two years ago. There, water filled the space up to the second row of seats, leaving the theater "badly damaged," according to an Archives press release.

The carpeting on the floor was badly faded, and water marks were clearly visible on the wall. Snaking through the stairwells of the theater were large, plastic tubes pumping dry air into the room to counteract the humidity.

The cleanup work at the National Archives started immediately upon the discovery of the water. Ever since, Edwards said, crews of 75 to 100 people have been "working around the clock."

Despite flood damage to the building, the Archives staff still plans to move ahead with their Fourth of July celebration on the steps outside.