Recovering: Relief efforts begin to help thousands affected by Hurricane Florence; officials report 37 storm-related deaths, including 2 in Virginia
Free Press staff, wire reports | 9/20/2018, 6 a.m.
Remnants of Hurricane Florence swept Richmond into the national spotlight Monday when the storm’s wide-reaching bands of high winds and heavy rains spawned tornadoes and flash flooding.
Ominous tornado warnings issued around 3:45 p.m. set off cell phones and sirens throughout the metro area, sending people to basements and interior rooms seeking cover from the many funnel clouds spotted from Chesterfield to Hanover.
Schools across the area went on lockdown, keeping students well past their normal dismissal time until the danger passed.
The National Weather Service reported five tornadoes touched down in the area, toppling trees into cars and homes, ripping roofs off buildings and sending debris swirling.
One, a category EF2 twister with estimated 120 mph winds, touched down off Hull Street Road between Genito and Courthouse roads, tearing the roof off Old Dominion Floor Co. in the 3300 block of Speeks Drive.
Authorities said floor company employee Ronnie Bishop, 60, who was trying to take cover with other workers, was killed when the building collapsed.
It was the first deadly tornado in Metro Richmond since the 1990s.
West of Richmond in Louisa County, Edward Kelih Jr., 59, was killed when his 2003 Toyota Tacoma truck was swept away by rushing water as he tried to cross the flooded Rock Quarry Road. The truck overturned and the cab was submerged in the water, State Police said. The truck, with Mr. Kelih’s body inside, was found about 1:55 a.m. Tuesday.
The James River crested Wednesday morning at 15 feet, about 3 feet above flood stage at the city’s Westham gauge, and officials continued to keep an eye out for any flooding as the waters began receding.
More than a dozen trees were reported down in Richmond, primarily in the Brook Road and Laburnum Avenue area in North Side and the area of South Side around Jahnke Road and Forest Hill Avenue. Chainsaw crews from the city Department of Public Works were making the rounds Wednesday to clear the trees.
Dominion Energy reported 11,000 customers without power in the Richmond and Tri-Cities area at the height of outages on Monday afternoon and evening, with about 600 customers still in the dark Tuesday evening.
Many people gave Mayor Levar M. Stoney and Gov. Ralph S. Northam high marks for the city and state’s early response to Hurricane Florence, which headed toward the East Coast last week, threatening a 500-mile-wide swath from South Carolina up to Virginia. It dropped from a Category 4 storm to a Category 1 threat when it struck landfall late Thursday night around Wilmington, N.C.
After it became clear that Virginia largely would be spared Hurricane Florence’s wrath, Gov. Northam’s mandatory evacuation order for people living in low-lying portions of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore was lifted last Friday, allowing the more than 245,000 people affected to return home.
Emergency storm shelters set up last Thursday by the City of Richmond in Linwood Holton and Blackwell Elementary schools closed 7 a.m. Saturday.
Residents in many North Carolina communities bared the brunt of the storm, with major flooding forcing people to be rescued from their homes in New Bern, Lumberton and Fayetteville.