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River Crests at Near-Record Level in Va.

October 11, 2006

FRANKLIN, Va. (AP) _ Swollen by torrential weekend rainfall, the Blackwater River crested Tuesday at nearly a record level, flooding parts of the city with four feet of water and submerging some cars up to their rooftops. No injuries were reported.

As many as 120 businesses and 35 homes may have suffered some flood damage, officials said, but authorities had not yet been able to fully assess the damage.

Downtown Franklin had been closed since Monday because of flooding, said Capt. Tim Dunn of the fire and rescue department. At least 70 people had been evacuated from low-lying areas.

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.

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.

``We definitely could have had a bomb headed our way, (but) I think we fared well,″ Dunn said of the current flooding.

Mayor James P. Councill III stood in the back of a high-water truck as it drove through downtown so he could survey streets covered in some places by 3 to 4 feet of water. Councill said that after Floyd, he needed a boat to check out damage and the water was a good 5 feet higher.

``This isn’t quite as bad, but it’s still sickening to go through and see all the water and what’s going on here,″ Councill said as he pointed out cars submerged and a building where sandbags couldn’t keep the water from seeping through the doorway.

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.

``I really feel for the business owners in the heart of downtown who have fought so hard to come back after Floyd in 1999,″ said Kaine, who toured Franklin on Tuesday.

Franklin was still trying to operate normally Tuesday. 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.″

Several merchants and property owners standing next to a barricade at the edge of downtown said they were frustrated because they had not been allowed to check out possible damage to their buildings.

``I don’t know if I have a livelihood left,″ said Janet Joyner, who owns a hair salon.

The high water caused a potentially flammable spill at a local fuel distributor Monday that involved at least 11,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of kerosene.

Hazardous materials crews sprayed foam on the fuel 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.

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.


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