RICHMOND, Va. — Giant sections were taken out of roads where the earth had given way to rushing water beneath the concrete. An intersection disappeared into a 30-foot sinkhole, with cars, twisted pieces of fencing and part of a front yard lying at the bottom. Five people were dead, while others were left carless, homeless and jobless.
As residents and business owners realized the damage caused by Tropical Storm Gaston, cleanup in the city’s Shockoe Bottom district continued.
“I’m out of an apartment and out of a job,” Eric Eaton said as he and Thea Duskin sat outside their flooded apartment, watching their belongings dry out on the sidewalk.
Flooding touched off by the remnants of Gaston left at least five people dead in Virginia on Tuesday and devastated a historic Richmond neighborhood that was the heart of the Confederate capital during the Civil War.
Two people died in a creek in Richmond; witnesses said they may have been part of a human chain trying to reach people stuck inside a van. In nearby Chesterfield County, rescuers pulled a woman’s body from a submerged car Tuesday. Two other deaths occurred in Hanover County north of the city.
Dozens of cars that had been carried off by the raging floodwaters were strewn about Shockoe Bottom’s low-lying streets, which were streaked with mud and littered with bricks and other debris. A brick building had collapsed onto several vehicles.
City officials closed off 20 blocks of the lively restaurant and bar district — or about half of the historic area — near the James River, declaring them off limits until the buildings could be inspected.
‘Overwhelming’ devastation described
Richmond City Manager Calvin Jamison said damage to the city’s infrastructure alone could top $15 million, but acknowledged it was early estimate.
“The devastation to a lot of the businesses in Shockoe Bottom is overwhelming,” said Gov. Mark R. Warner, who surveyed the aftermath. He said he would ask Washington to declare a state of emergency, making residents eligible for federal aid.
In the 19th century, the Shockoe Bottom district was a thriving industrial center of tobacco warehouses and factories, most of which was reduced to smoldering ruins after the city fell to Union troops in 1865. Abraham Lincoln walked through and surveyed the damage.
A floodwall built in the 1990s protects shops, restaurants and homes, but it was designed to hold back the James — not a sudden deluge from the sky.
Eaton, 27, said he expected the apartment to be condemned. The Kitchen Table, where he worked, was devastated and probably would not reopen anytime soon, he said.
Eaton and Duskin, a tattoo artist, said they were at home when the water started creeping into their basement-level apartment about 1:30 p.m. Monday. As the couple scrambled to move their possessions to higher ground, their dog Rorschach happily splashed through the apartment, chasing shoes as they floated by.
Despite the couple’s losses, Eaton was thankful for one thing: “I was able to save my record collection.”
Scores of people scoured Shockoe Bottom on Tuesday for signs of their cars, many of which had been carried away by the water and deposited on top of other cars or mired in mud.
Carly Herring stood in front of a collapsed building, staring at the wreckage from the flood. Underneath were several cars — including her own.
“It was a ’93 Saturn,” lamented Herring, a 21-year-old cook at the Bottoms Up pizza restaurant.
Tuesday morning, Herring said she was unable to enter her apartment near the collapsed building due to the damage. She also was unable to work since the restaurant was closed due to water damage. She was rescued by boat from the restaurant Monday night.
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