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VA floods displace families

Richmond floodwaters struck businesses and low-income neighborhoods.

BY SUSAN KIM | RICHMOND, Va. | September 4, 2004

"People lost a lot in these floods."

—Rev. Shady Clark

Flood damage from Tropical Storm Gaston last week may have affected dozens of families, many with needs still coming to the surface.

Although initially the Virginia Emergency Management Ageny indicated some 50 homes were destroyed or damaged, one city official said up to 350 dwellings may have been destroyed or damaged when apartment building destruction was taken into account.

The tropical storm hit Richmond Monday, dropping more than a foot of rain, and causing flash floods that killed more than eight people.

More than 200 businesses were also damaged.

While the television news media focused on footage of cars in the business district stacked on top of one another, residents in one housing project who said they were impacted by the flooding were still struggling to find resources to make repairs.

In the community of Church Hill, in Richmond's east end, the Eastminster Presbyterian Church - a 68-member African-American congregation - sits in the heart of a public housing development. Belongings spill out of some doorways. Many homes appeared to have needed some repairs even before floodwaters hit.

"Our church sits in the heart of a public housing development," said the Rev. Shady Clark. "People lost a lot in these floods. They didn't lose everything but they lost a lot."

Clark said people in the high-crime area simply need help - and not only with repairing flood damage. "People need jobs, and education," he said.

On the other end of the city, the Bon Air United Methodist Church is open as a shelter at least through the rest of this week. Twenty-five people have been staying overnight, all Hispanic families from an apartment complex that was demolished by floodwaters.

Working with the American Red Cross, church volunteers are trying to help people find alternate housing. The volunteers are providing transportation for families who need to look for housing.

On her first official day as the leader of the Virginia conference of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Charlene Kammerer joined volunteers in offering support to flood survivors in Shockroe Bottom, a historic section of Richmond devastated when floodwaters rose up to 20 feet.

In that area, dozens of cars were tossed about in the streets, which were left caked with mud and strewn with bricks and other debris. Blocks of businesses and apartments were flooded. Panicked motorists raced to escape their cars as they were overtaken by floodwaters.

People who both lived and worked in the Shockroe Bottom area may be both homeless and jobless.

One volunteer at the Bon Air church, Marilyn Louderback, said a gauge in her yard registered 11 inches of rain from Gaston, which inexplicably stalled over the city, dumping heavy rain and causing the James River to overflow its banks and flood several low-lying neighborhoods.

Louderback's son-in-law, Chris Scholz, who is also volunteering, called it "an anomaly. The forecasters kept saying, only another half hour of rain, then only another hour of rain, and after that they just gave up. There is no explanation for this."

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