County video addresses River Towers situation, shows new pics of damage

Deteriorated column

A screenshot from a new video released by the county shows up-close images of the deteriorated columns that caused the River Towers collapse.

A new YouTube video created by Fairfax County aims to reassure River Towers residents that the county will continue to assist them in the wake of the October collapse that displaced residents of 32 units.

The video, posted Dec. 14, features Supervisor Dan Storck (D-Mount Vernon), county building official Brian Foley, and Deputy County Health and Human Services Executive Pat Harrison. The three officials spell out how the county aims to help them, from providing aid to displaced residents to making sure construction permits move quickly through the county system.

“We have been there, we will be there, we will continue to be there until this issue is fully resoled and the residents are back in their units,” Storck says in the beginning of the video.

River Towers condominiums consists of three buildings — 6621, 6631 and 6641 — on Wakefield Drive in the Belle View area. Residents were evacuated from the 6631 building on Oct. 2 after columns broke on the portico side of the structure, triggering a partial collapse of the building. Inspections determined that water, which had been infiltrating the columns near the foundation for years, had caused the failure.

While most residents of the building were allowed back into their condos soon after the incident, people in 32 of the units remain displaced (the exact number of displaced residents will not be publicly released due to privacy concerns, according to a spokeswoman for Storck). No timetable has been announced for when they’ll be able to return. Restoration work, a complex process that will involve repairing the columns and jacking the building back into place, has not begun yet.

River Towers hired KGE Engineering earlier this month to do the restoration work, according to a Dec. 10 message on their website. It is unclear when work will begin, or how long it will take to be completed. Per a note on the River Towers website, the association is not talking to the media “because of the pending and tentative nature of insurance negotiations.”

In the video, Harrison says the county has been assisting some of the displaced families and individuals since the collapse and will continue to do so.

“Staff within our health and human services agencies are here to help you through this challenging time,” Harrison says. “If you are an owner in need of food, clothing or other types of basic needs, I want to encourage you to contact [us],” Harrison says. Phone numbers for various county agencies are provided. 

The video also features new images depicting the severely deteriorated columns that need to be repaired. Foley summarizes the chain of events leading to the collapse, and ensures residents that his office will expedite building permits as restoration work begins.

In describing the collapse, Foley notes that the steel columns had been infiltrated with water since the building was built in 1962. The water caused rusting of the columns, and over time they deteriorated from between 3/4-1 inch thick to about a millimeter, Foley said. When the columns broke, the portico section of the building fell 4-5 inches and shifted 2-3 inches. 

Rather than resting on the foundation, the 6631 unit instead rested on the sidewalk and ground surrounding the building, Foley said. 

“We can’t allow that, and that means the building cannot be inhabited,” Foley said.

Although the other two River Towers units have a similar water infiltration problem, engineers determined that there was no imminent danger of collapse, Foley said. The porticoes of those buildings have been blocked off since October as well, and bracing was installed to help support the damaged columns.