Looking back at Hurricane Isabel
Compiled by Chris Graham
Tim Spears was surveying the damage wrought by the South River on his downtown-Waynesboro music store Friday afternoon.
“It could’ve been a lot worse,” said Spears, owner of Tim Spears’ Music City – which is located just a city block away from the South River.
Spears estimated the damage to his store in the area of $30,000.
“The insurance company will be glad to hear that, actually,” said Spears, who carries a policy covering the estimated $200,000 worth of merchandise in his store.
The bulk of the merchandise was stored safely away in two trailers provided by Waynesboro City Councilman Reo Hatfield, the owner of the Reo Distribution trucking and logistics company.
The main issue facing Spears was beginning the cleanup.
“We had water up to about four feet,” Spears said.
“It’s a mess in there,” he said. “But you should’ve seen it this morning.”
BACK TO THE BEGINNING, MONDAY, 11 A.M. Virginia state climatologist Patrick Michael was at a conference in Pennsylvania, but he couldn’t take his mind off Hurricane Isabel.
Michael was thinking at the time that the storm could dump rainfall amounts in the area of the double digits on parts of the Greater Augusta County area before making its way out of the area on Friday.
He was alone in that line of thinking at that point, incidentally. The National Weather Service was forecasting totals in the area of three to five inches associated with the hurricane.
WHSV-TV3 meteorologist George Hirschmann, for his part, was forecasting that “a good, soaking rain” would result from Isabel.
Michael compared the storm to a 1933 hurricane largely regarded as the most powerful tropical system to hit the East Coast.
“This one could end up being more destructive than the 1933 storm,” Michael said, talking about Isabel.
RED CROSS PREP, MONDAY, 3 P.M. The American Red Cross wasn’t taking any chances.
“At this point, we are putting all of our volunteers on standby,” said Donna Moss, the director of emergency services for the Blue Ridge chapter of the American Red Cross – which serves residents in Waynesboro and Eastern Augusta County and also the Greater Rockbridge County region.
Moss and Red Cross administrators were busy on Monday making sure that local shelters were ready – just in case the storm hit.
“We’ve been in contact with the schools that serve as shelters for our region, and also been in contact with local governments and the local departments of social services to talk about what needs to be done in the event of something happening here,” Moss said.
NO ROOM AT THE INN, TUESDAY, 1:15 P.M. “We’ve been booked solid since Monday morning,” said Diane Keally, the manager of the 66-room Hampton Inn hotel on Va. 285 in Fishersville.
That was the word across the area hospitality industry on Tuesday – as residents from the Tidewater area made their way inland to get out of the line of fire of Hurricane Isabel.
“We sold out all our rooms through the weekend in three hours (on Monday),” said Andrew Bailey, manager of the Hampton Inn in Staunton.
The 76-room hotel has had “a few” cancellations since – and all were filled in short order.
“The amount of calls we’ve received has been unbelievable,” Bailey said.
Echoing those sentiments was Mabel Cash at the 82-room Econo Lodge in Staunton.
“We have a few openings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but that could change pretty quickly,” Cash said.
Cash said Greater Augusta County-area hotel and motel managers were working together to make sure that they could keep those who wanted to hunker down through the end of Isabel in the mountains informed as to the availability of rooms.
“We’ve all been helping each other out so we if one of us is filled up, we can give them some tips about where they might be able to book a room. But the thing is, everything is pretty much booked up at this point,” Cash said.
Keally said that she was hearing the same thing as far as the availability of rooms across the region.
“The latest I heard was that one hotel had some rooms available, but I’d be surprised if that would be the case for too long,” she said.
LOCAL OFFICIALS TAKE NOTICE, TUESDAY, 3 P.M. After holding individual meetings all morning, officials from Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro got together for a regional planning meeting Tuesday in the Charles T. Yancey Municipal Building in downtown Waynesboro.
Word that Isabel could end up being more dangerous than had originally been expected had emergency-services coordinators across the region scrambling to cover different bases.
“We’ve never done this before, to my knowledge,” said Gary Critzer, Waynesboro’s emergency-services coordinator.
The meeting brought together the emergency folks with planners, representatives from area law-enforcement agencies, utility companies and members of the local news media.
“The goal is to cut down on the number of meetings we’re having, and to provide an avenue for people to be able to network across the boundary lines so that it might be easier for us to work together through whatever happens,” Critzer said.
BATTENING DOWN THE HATCHES, TUESDAY, 4 P.M. Dean Nimax of Verona spent his day Tuesday trying to get his daughter, Jennifer, home from school in Tidewater.
Before he left, he made sure that he was also packed and ready to go, he said, in case his Coast Guard auxiliary unit – the Waynesboro-based Flotilla 82 – was called into service.
Jim Belcher of Waynesboro, for his part, was also thinking of Coastal Virginia.
“I’m calling friends down there and offering refuge,” Belcher said Tuesday.
Belcher lives in the Club Court area – which was flooded out twice in 1996. Also flooded out twice that year was downtown Waynesboro – a.k.a. the central-business district.
The news on the business front in Waynesboro in recent weeks and months had been nothing but positive – up to the word about a hurricane heading for town.
This was cause for concern for the city’s economic-development director, Brent Frank.
“With everything positive we’ve had going on right now, we just don’t need this,” Frank said.
WHOM DO YOU BELIEVE? WEDNESDAY, 1:45 P.M. Weather forecasters were still differing on their predictions related to rainfall amounts in the Shenandoah Valley associated with the powerful storm.
Could be three inches, could be 12 inches …
“If you look at four forecasts, you get four completely different opinions on what’s going to happen,” said Webber Payne, owner of Waynesboro Florist in downtown Waynesboro.
Payne and a group of 10 city residents were out at the old Advance Auto parking lot in the downtown district Wednesday afternoon shoveling sand into sandbags for use by downtown merchants to protect businesses from rising floodwaters.
As the group worked, Payne looked up at the clear blue sky overhead – and noted the eerie calm of the late-summer day.
“Yesterday was beautiful, today is beautiful, and they’re saying this weekend is going to be beautiful. But in between, we’re going to have two days of hell,” Payne said.
MORE PERSPECTIVES FROM AREA RESIDENTS, WEDNESDAY, 5 P.M. Cristal Galvin had taken her family down to Nags Head, N.C., for a late-summer vacation.
“A five-bedroom house, four bathrooms, swimming pool, hot tub, seven television sets …” Galvin said, describing the set-up.
She was back home in the Shenandoah Valley, of course, as she told the story – after being chased out of Nags Head by Hurricane Isabel.
The worst part: “We headed to higher ground only to find that it is going to follow us,” Galvin said.
IT’S COMING, THURSDAY, 9 A.M. Waynesboro sheriff’s deputy Bruce Allen – a resident of the Club Court area in Waynesboro – was ready for whatever was to come.
“I got a supply of sandbags and moved my vehicles to higher ground,” said Allen, who lives on Shore Road.
Allen said he was following the advice of local emergency-services coordinators. He offered his personal checklist.
“Make sure flashlights are charged. Have portable radio. Check and make sure generator is ready to go. Have extra gas on hand, extra bottle water and food. Things of this sort. Have emergency plan into place with all members of my family …”
THE SHELTERS ARE OPENING, THURSDAY, 10:40 A.M. The rain from Isabel – expected to come late Thursday afternoon – had already been falling for more than an hour.
The American Red Cross was not interested in putting off what it needed to do any longer than was necessary.
Ella Huffman, a volunteer with the Staunton-West Augusta chapter of the American Red Cross, told The Augusta Free Press at 10:40 a.m. that the chapter had scheduled the opening of four emergency shelters for county residents for 5 p.m.
The shelters – at Stuarts Draft Elementary School, Clymore Elementary School, Churchville Elementary School and Beverley Manor Middle School – were to be staffed by the American Red Cross, Huffman said.
Meanwhile, Donna Moss, the director of emergency services for the Blue Ridge chapter of the American Red Cross, said later Thursday morning that the decision had been made to open a shelter for Waynesboro residents at Kate Collins Middle School.
SHERIFF OFFERS PERSONAL ADVICE, THURSDAY, 10:45 A.M. “We do ask that as the storm approaches and gets stronger in this area, to limit your driving and try to stay off of the road, and avoid high water areas and closed roads,” Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher said.
MOVIN’ OUT, THURSDAY, 11 A.M. For many in Waynesboro who know about floods, there’s a surefire sign that the floodwaters are a-comin’.
The sign: the tractor-trailer sitting out in front of Tim Spears’ Music City at the corner of Arch Avenue and West Main Street.
So when it showed up at 10:30 a.m., well …
“There are people over across the street filling up sandbags, and of course Mr. Spears has his trailer and is filling it up. And we’re getting things out of here as quickly as we can,” Waynesboro Downtown Development Inc. executive director Kathryn Aranda said.
MOVIN’ OUT, PART TWO, THURSDAY, 1:15 P.M. The staff at Old Dominion Studios in downtown Waynesboro didn’t wait for any kind of official notice from the city to start preparing for the onslaught of Hurricane Isabel.
“We were here pretty much from noon on yesterday until about nine or 10 last night, and then back in here at 9:30 this morning,” employee Dulcey Fuqua said.
The dance and martial-arts studio held classes on Wednesday – through the work to move items out of harm’s way.
“There were people in classes on one side, and everybody else, including parents and students, were on the other side hard at work,” Fuqua said.
The building – the former home to Corner Hardware – is located a little more than a block from the South River in the downtown-business district.
It flooded twice in 1996 – with the flood waters reaching a height of five-and-a-half feet at their worst point.
Volunteers were busy placing sandbags inside the front entrance this morning – to protect a dance floor installed after Old Dominion opened its doors.
“We’re trying to get these in place so that we can prevent the floor from buckling if the water gets in here,” Fuqua said.
Across West Main Street, Spears and another group of volunteers were at work loading up trailers with musical instruments from Spears’ downtown music store.
“We’re actually doing this a little differently than in the past. I understand we have until about midnight tonight before it’s supposed to get bad, but we thought we’d get it done early just in case,” Spears said.
Spears said he planned to get everything out of the store before the floodwaters were expected to hit.
STATES OF EMERGENCY, THURSDAY, 2 P.M. Waynesboro city manager Doug Walker declared a state of emergency in Waynesboro at 2 p.m. – joining Staunton and Augusta County, which declared states of emergency earlier in the afternoon.
MORE PREDICTIONS, THURSDAY, 2:15 P.M. “Nothing has changed with regard to the storm track,” said Jerry Stenger, the research coordinator at the Virginia State Climatology Office in Charlottesville.
Stenger said the eye of the storm was expected to track through the Piedmont of North Carolina and into Virginia west of Richmond through the evening. It was projected to reach the Charlottesville area by 2 a.m. Friday before veering to the west toward Augusta County.
“Your readers should be seeing the worst of what they’ll see out of the storm at about 3 a.m., 4 a.m.,” Stenger said.
Rainfall predictions that had the Greater Augusta County area receiving between 6-10 inches from Isabel “appear to be right on the mark at this time,” Stenger said.
“And we’re still expecting to see localized rain amounts in the area of 12 inches or more,” Stenger said.
SEEKING SHELTER, THURSDAY, 5 P.M. Kate Collins Middle School was open on time, and a crew of 10 American Red Cross volunteers and employees of the regional department of social services were ready to help local residents get set up at the emergency shelter.
But as of 6 p.m., no one had turned out.
“The important thing is, if people need us, we’re here,” Moss said.
IN THE DARK, THURSDAY, 7:30 P.M. More than 3,000 customers in the Greater Augusta County area lost power – and that number was expected to increase as Hurricane Isabel approached the Shenandoah Valley.
“The storm isn’t impacting the Valley to the degree that it has in other parts of the state at this point,” Dominion Virginia Power spokesman David Botkins said.
The number of customers in the region without power was 3,260 as of 7:30 p.m.
Charlottesville – just 25 miles to the west – had more than 31,000 households without power. Dominion has 55,000 power customers in the Charlottesville market.
Across the state, more than 1.3 million Dominion Virginia Power customers were without power – out of 2.2 million total Dominion customers.
THREE TO FIVE MY … THURSDAY, 8:10 P.M. The Greater Augusta County area was put under a flash-flood warning through midnight.
The center of Hurricane Isabel was making its way into Southeast Virginia at 8:10 p.m. – and was expected to track to the northwest past Richmond in the next hour or two on its way to Charlottesville and the Shenandoah Valley in the overnight hours.
Rainfall amounts in the area of 3-6 inches had already fallen on locations in the Greater Augusta area, said David Manning, a forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Sterling.
Somewhere in the range of 2-4 inches more was expected by midnight, Manning said.
BIG, BIG NUMBER, THURSDAY, 9 P.M. A rain gauge on the South River in the Sherando area had registered 12.15 inches of the wet stuff as of 9 p.m., said John McGehee, the assistant administrator in Augusta County.
Residents of the Creekside mobile-home park in Sherando were evacuated – as were residents in Vesuvius near the Augusta-Rockbridge county line, McGehee said.
“We’re very concerned about the southeast part of the county,” McGehee said.
Residents of communities located at the bottom of the western slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains – from Vesuvius and Sherando in the southeast all the way to Dooms, Crimora, Grottoes and Harriston in the northeast – were at the time very much under the gun from flooding related to the remnants of Hurricane Isabel.
“Anybody who lives on or near creeks or other tributaries coming down the western slope of the Blue Ridge and emptying into the South River needs to take a close look at rising waters and be prepared to evacuate,” McGehee said.
WAYNESBORO ISSUES EVACUATION RECOMMENDATION, 10 P.M. Waynesboro officials issued an evacuation recommendation to residents in the Club Court, South Charlotte Avenue, South Bath Avenue, Arch Avenue and Race Avenue areas due to expectations of flooding in the areas.
Assistant city manager Mike Hamp said rain totals measured in gauges on flood-control dams located on the South River in Augusta County indicated the potential for flooding in Waynesboro in the overnight hours.
The river was expected to crest at 13 feet at 6 a.m. Friday, forecasters said Thursday evening.
The river is at flood stage in Waynesboro at 9.5 feet.
As of 10:15 p.m. Thursday, the river was at eight feet – and “rising rapidly,” according to a special statement released by the National Weather Service.
Parts of the Greater Augusta County area had received more than 14 inches of rain associated with the remnants of Hurricane Isabel as of 10 p.m. Thursday, the weather service reported.
SEEKING SHELTER, THURSDAY, 10:30 P.M. There were 37 people staying at the emergency shelter set up at Stuarts Draft Elementary School, Moss said.
And another busload of evacuees was headed to SDES as a result of flooding in the Sherando, Lyndhurst and Vesuvius areas, Moss said.
There were nine people staying at the emergency shelter set up for residents at Kate Collins Middle School in Waynesboro as of 10:30 p.m..
CALM DURING THE STORM, THURSDAY, 10:40 P.M. Things were calmer – relatively speaking – over in Staunton.
“The main problems we’re seeing are related to the heavy winds that we’re seeing from this storm,” Staunton city-government spokesperson Doug Cochran said.
Cochran said the city had reported 28 downed power lines to Dominion Virginia Power Thursday evening – and that public-works crews had been dealing with “three or four dozen” reports of downed trees in Staunton.
SCARY SITUATION, FRIDAY, 12:35 A.M. The rain gauge on a flood-control dam in Sherando had measured 18.48 inches of rain related to Hurricane Isabel as of 12:35 a.m., McGehee said.
The rainfall total was the tops in the state measured related to the tropical system that began affecting weather in the Old Dominion Thursday morning, McGehee said.
Most of the Sherando area had been evacuated, McGehee said.
Residents in the Vesuvius area near the Augusta-Rockbridge county line had also been evacuated, McGehee said.
Unconfirmed reports from the area indicate that roads in the Southeast Augusta community might have been washed out completely.
The Virginia Department of Transportation reported that Va. 664 and Va. 610 in Sherando and Lyndhurst had been closed due to high water as of 10:30 p.m. Thursday.
Other road closures of note in the Greater Augusta County area included Va. 663 in the Crimora area; Va. 620 between U.S. 11 and Va. 919; Va. 608 between Va. 775 and Va. 776; and Va. 768.
WAITING IT OUT, FRIDAY, 3 A.M. Payne and Spears each stayed close by their stores to wait out the hurricane.
“If you would have asked me at 11 o’clock or midnight what I would have thought of this, I would’ve told you we were in the clear,” Payne said.
But by midnight, it was clear that the river was going to jump its banks.
By 2:30 a.m., downtown Waynesboro was covered with water up to Payne’s florist shop.
The water had run through Spears’ music stop and several adjoining businesses.
“It was unusual,” Payne said. “The last time it flooded down here, the water just sort of accumulated over a period of time. But with this one, it just came down the street like rushing water.”
Spears – who had fallen asleep in a truck parked across the street from his store – was awakened by his wife, Tammy.
“She said, ‘Tim, it’s 2:38, and the water is up to the door of the cab. You’d better get up now,’ ” Spears said.
DISEMPOWERED, FRIDAY, 9 A.M. More than 1.7 million Dominion Virginia Power customers were without power this morning – including 72,500 customers in the company’s Western Virginia region.
Dominion spokesman Bill Byrd said residents who were without power needed to be patient over the course of the following few days as crews worked to get them back on-line.
Before Hurricane Isabel arrived in the Old Dominion on Thursday, the company had advised residents who might experience power outages to be prepared to go without power for a period of three to seven days.
Asked if that would be good advice, Byrd said, “Yes, I think that would be fair to say.”
“Our first priority is to determine where the problems are. After that, our top priority is to make sure that emergency-service providers, hospitals, local emergency-operations centers and other important public offices have their power restored,” Byrd said.
SAFE AND SECURE, FOR NOW, FRIDAY, 11 A.M. Sixty-six Waynesboro-area residents rode out Hurricane Isabel Thursday night in the emergency shelter set up at Kate Collins Middle School on Ivy Road.
Among them was Race Avenue resident Margaret Strickler, who fled her mobile-home located a few hundred feet from the South River early on Thursday evening.
“I think I was the first one here,” said Strickler, who signed in with her sister, Clara Breeden, and a neighbor, Avis Gregory, at 6 p.m. Thursday.
She tried to go back to her trailer this morning to assess the damage – “but it was still blocked off,” she said.
“I don’t know when we’ll be able to get back to see what the hurricane did,” Strickler said, sitting in the cafeteria at the middle school.
Strickler was worried about going home to see what the hurricane had done to her life’s possessions.
“I’m just praying that the flood didn’t get us too bad,” Strickler said.
DRYING OUT IN DOWNTOWN, FRIDAY, 12:15 P.M. Payne was pulling double duty – running his florist shop and standing guard for the owner of an adjoining store.
“He was up all night. He just needed to go home and crash. I can’t leave him like this,” he said, pointing inside the open front door of the business – showing a whirl of activity going on inside.
A water pump was hard at work; so were volunteers mopping up behind the now-empty sandbags that had worked to keep the water in the store to a minimum.
Down the block, Dave Fuqua at Old Dominion Studios showed off one of the more unusual finds of his day – the receding floodwaters had deposited a dishwasher behind the dance and martial-arts studios.
WATER ISSUES IN WAYNESBORO, 7:10 P.M. Waynesboro residents were asked to boil their drinking water and take other precautionary measures for at least the following five days due to issues related to an overflow of rainwater from Hurricane Isabel into the Coyner Springs city reservoir.
The 40-minute overflow – which occurred at the height of Isabel’s impact on the Shenandoah Valley Thursday night – mixed cloudy surface water from a steam running near the spring with water in the spring.
The mixture was then pumped through the water station at Coyner Springs, public-works department spokesperson Deana Desjardins said.
The city’s water system was to be tested over the course of the next few days for possible bacteria contamination, Desjardins said.
“We don’t anticipate that we’ll find any evidence that there is bacteria in the system, but as a precaution, we’re asking people to boil their drinking water and take other necessary precautions,” Desjardins said.
LET THERE BE LIGHT, SATURDAY, 3 P.M. Peggy Moore’s Chinquapin home had lost power during the storm Thursday evening – and was still without electricity as of Saturday afternoon.
Moore was considering staying the night in a local hotel – as opposed to spending night number three in the dark – when she was jolted by a familiar noise.
The electricity was back on.
MORE ON POWER, SUNDAY, 9 A.M. Moore was lucky.
Dominion Virginia Power still had 1,294 of its customers in the Greater Augusta County area without power as of 9 a.m. Sunday, spokesman Mark Lazener said.
And more than 1.2 million customers across the state are still in the dark as a result of outages related to Hurricane Isabel, Lazener said.
That is an improvement over the numbers from early Friday, when more than 1.8 million customers were out of power.
“The damage to our system is simply unbelievable,” said Jimmy D. Staton, senior vice president of operations at Dominion Power.
Staton himself saw gigantic trees that Isabel had uprooted and tossed into power lines during a helicopter tour Saturday.
“Our crews remain committed to getting the lights back on, but this effort will take many days,” Staton said.
“So far, we have restored service to about as many customers that were out from Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and that took us 10 days. Our line crews plus those who have come to our aid have done great work, and we’ve got lots of work ahead of us.”