Soaked Carolinas Brace for Hurricane Frances

The remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston (search) battered parts of Virginia with torrential rain Monday, sending cars floating down streets and stranding people in downtown buildings.

Gov. Mark R. Warner (search) declared a state of emergency due to flooding in central Virginia, making state resources available and putting the Virginia National Guard on standby.

"It looks like rapids outside our building," said Nick Baughan, who was stranded with about 20 other people on the second floor of the Bottoms Up pizza restaurant in Richmond. "All of our cars have floated away."

The first floor was under 10 to 12 feet of water, Baughan said.

About 11 inches of rain fell in Richmond, causing cars to float down flooded streets and ram into the restaurant and other buildings in the Shockoe Bottom district, a popular entertainment area.

"We had a side shed attached to the building. It's not attached anymore," Baughan said.

Fourteen rescues of people stranded in buildings or cars were pending Monday night, police spokeswoman Cynthia Price said. A stretch of Interstate 95 was closed and many streets were impassable, creating traffic jams that lasted from rush hour until well into the night.

"As you can imagine, with all the gridlock we're having a hard time getting where we need to be," Price said.

She said two emergency shelters were opened. No injuries were immediately reported.

The downpour flooded the state's emergency operations center, sending officials scrambling to protect computers and other electronic equipment after more than 4 inches of water covered the floor.

Richmond police appealed to residents to call 911 only in life-threatening situations after authorities were swamped with calls seeking information on how to navigate flooded and traffic-choked streets.

Keith Lynch, of the National Weather Service (search) office in Wakefield, said he received reports of possible tornadoes touching down in James City and Yorktown. Lynch said officials will visit the sites Tuesday to verify if tornadoes hit.

James City County Deputy Fire Chief Tal Luton said he saw two twisters but described damage as "fairly light."

Bob Spieldenner, spokesman for the state Department of Emergency Management, said four homes were damaged by high wind in Poquoson.

About 82,000 Dominion Virginia Power customers in the Richmond area and southeastern Virginia were without service Monday night.

Farther south, residents and officials in the Carolinas on Monday were cleaning up from Gaston -- and keeping their eyes on Hurricane Frances (search).

At 8 p.m. EDT Monday, Frances was centered about 190 miles east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands and was moving west at about 14 mph.

While Gaston caused some problems, "it's not the kind of catastrophic damage we see in a major hurricane," South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said. He urged coastal residents to monitor Frances, which had 125 mph winds but is still days away from the Southeast coast.

Gaston, which came ashore Sunday just under hurricane strength with winds of 70 mph, brought rains estimated at 13 inches in places in South Carolina.

The storm flooded areas already saturated by Hurricane Charley earlier this month and cut power to 172,000 electric customers in the state. Fewer than 29,000 customers remained without power Monday.

In Berkeley County, where damage from Gaston was severe, 10 houses were completely flooded and more than two dozen people had to be rescued from flood waters, said Jim Rozier, a county supervisor.

"It just seemed to rain forever," he said.

The storm ensured that this would be the wettest summer on record in some communities. Richmond has received more than 30 inches of rain since June 1, breaking the June-through-August record of 27.57 inches recorded in 1969.