FRANKLIN, Va. – Swollen by torrential weekend rainfall, the Blackwater River crested Tuesday at nearly a record level, causing flood damage to about 65 businesses and 10 to 15 homes in this southeastern Virginia city.
Downtown Franklin had been closed since Monday because of flooding, and the city was to send inspectors out as early as Tuesday night to assess the damage, said Capt. Tim Dunn of the fire and rescue department. They were hampered by a potentially flammable spill at a local fuel distributor that was caused by the flooding.
The high water also may have caused the derailment early Tuesday of four empty CSX train cars on tracks over the river, Dunn said. No one was injured.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine declared a statewide emergency Monday after as much as 12 inches of rain fell on central and southeastern Virginia during the weekend.
At least 70 people had been evacuated from low-lying areas of Franklin.
The Blackwater River crested at 22.8 feet just north of the city at about 8 a.m Tuesday, said Keith Lynch, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. That was the highest crest since a reading of 26.4 feet after Hurricane Floyd in September 1999, Lynch said.
Floyd damaged or destroyed all 182 businesses in Franklin's downtown retail district and about 100 homes in the city. Since then, the government has bought flood-prone properties to prevent rebuilding, and the city of about 8,400 also improved downtown drainage. Dunn said this flood's impact compares to about 15 percent of the damage caused by Floyd.
"We definitely could have had a bomb headed our way, (but) I think we fared well," Dunn said of the current flooding.
Franklin was still trying to operate normally Tuesday, though city offices downtown remained closed.
City Registrar Sandy Holloman set up shop in the lobby of the police station because Tuesday was the deadline for registering to vote in the Nov. 7 election.
"Life goes on," Holloman said. "I had to be somewhere."
The spill at the fuel depot involved at least 11,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of kerosene.
Hazardous materials crews sprayed foam on the gasoline to prevent it from igniting and put out booms to try to contain the spill. Police were stationed around the area to make sure no one came into contact with the gasoline, Dunn said.
In nearby Isle of Wight County, all schools were closed Monday and Tuesday, officials said. Hardy Elementary suffered substantial flood damage and will be closed through Thursday.