- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

FRANKLIN, Va. (AP) — The rain-swollen Blackwater River crested yesterday at near-record levels, and about 65 businesses and 10 to 15 homes in this southeastern Virginia city suffered at least some flood damage, officials said.

Floodwaters also may have caused four empty CSX train cars to derail at 1:30 a.m. on tracks over the river at the Isle of Wight County line, said Capt. Tim Dunn with the fire and rescue department.

No one was injured, but the cars were stuck in floodwaters by the river, he said.

Flooding after weekend downpours forced downtown Franklin to close Monday, and city workers will not be able to get into the area until at least this morning to assess the damage, Capt. Dunn said.

They were hampered by a potentially explosive spill at a local fuel distributor that was triggered by the flooding.

However, it’s likely damage won’t be as bad as from flooding caused by Hurricane Floyd in September 1999, he said.

That storm damaged or destroyed all 182 businesses in Franklin’s downtown retail district and about 100 homes in the city.

Since then, the government bought flood-prone properties to prevent rebuilding, and the city of about 8,400 also improved downtown drainage.

“We definitely could have had a bomb headed our way, [but] I think we fared well,” Capt. Dunn said.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, declared a statewide emergency Monday after areas in central and southeastern Virginia received as much as 12 inches of rain over the weekend.

Officials closed downtown Franklin at 12:45 p.m. Monday, and earlier at least 70 residents in low-lying areas were evacuated.

Franklin sits at the head of the Blackwater River, which crested at 22.8 feet around 8 a.m. yesterday just north of the city, said Keith Lynch, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Wakefield.

That was the highest crest since the river reached 26.4 feet after Floyd, Mr. Lynch said.

Flooding caused a leak Monday of at least 11,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of kerosene at a petroleum depot. The gasoline, which started leaking around noon, continued leaking at a rate of about 3 gallons per minute Monday night, Capt. Dunn said.

Hazardous-materials crews sprayed foam on the gasoline to prevent it from igniting and put out booms to try to contain the spill.

The floodwaters were flowing so rapidly that crews had to stop fighting it until the waters recede, Capt. Dunn said.

Officials shut down the Norfolk Southern railroad that runs near the spill, and police were stationed around the area to make sure no one came into contact with the gasoline, Capt. Dunn said.

Crews also pulled a 500-gallon diesel fuel tank out of the floodwaters, but Capt. Dunn said that officials weren’t sure exactly how much of the substance spilled into the water.

In nearby Isle of Wight County, all schools were closed Monday and yesterday, school officials said. Hardy Elementary, which incurred substantial damage from flooding, also will be closed through tomorrow.

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