- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

RICHMOND (AP) — Gov. Mark Warner declared a state of emergency last night after the remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston battered central Virginia with torrential rain, causing heavy flooding that sent cars floating down streets and trapped people in buildings.

Some of the worst flooding was in the city’s popular Shockoe Bottom district, which is known for its bars and restaurants.

“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. “All of our cars have floated away.”

The first floor of the restaurant was under 10 to 12 feet of water, he said.

The National Weather Service received reports of 10 to 14 inches of rain in the Richmond area. Some floating cars rammed into buildings, including Bottoms Up.

“We had a side shed attached to the building. It’s not attached anymore,” Mr. Baughan 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.

Matthew Marsili, an interior designer, left work in Richmond’s Fan District at 5:30 p.m. and still wasn’t home across town four hours later.

While driving downtown, he said, “All of this water came rushing down the hill all at once. … It half-submerged a bus in the middle of the intersection that was filled with people, and cars started floating down the road.”

Two shelters were opened in Richmond and one in both Henrico and Chesterfield counties, where officials ordered an evacuation of neighborhoods downstream from the Falling Creek dam.

The downpour even flooded the state’s antiquated Emergency Operations Center, sending emergency officials scrambling to protect computers and other electronic equipment, said Harry Colestock, chief of operations for the state Department of Emergency Management. About 4 inches of water covered the floor, and power was briefly disrupted.

Keith Lynch, of the National Weather Service office in Wakefield, said he received reports of possible tornadoes touching down in James City and Yorktown. He said officials will visit the sites today to determine whether twisters did touch down.

James City County Deputy Fire Chief Tal Luton said he saw two tornadoes. The first one hit around 1:40 p.m. near Jamestown, and the second came off the James River about an hour later. He described damage as “fairly light.”

About 92,000 Dominion Virginia Power customers in the Richmond area and southeastern Virginia were without service.

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