A choice to laugh or cry

Published 9:10 am Saturday, September 19, 2009

Excerpts from an anonymous flood victim’s diary …

Sept. 16, 1999

When we went to bed last night, we had the usual rain and wind you would expect pre-hurricane. It rained all night. Hard. Same thing this AM. We lost power mid morning and had no power until 6 P M. or so. We didn’t lose telephone service until 7 or 8 tonight. Cable went out prior to the electricity and is still not back. The rain tapered off approximately 2 to 3. But we had 17 to 20 inches in less than 12 to 15 hours. Lots of water with nowhere to go.


Mom and I got up about 7 to see what was happening with Floyd. It was still 3 to 5 hours away, at least the eye was that far away. I convinced Mom to go to Fred’s. Hard to believe but Fred’s was closed. Even Hardee’s was closed. Water was standing in the usual low places downtown, in front of the post office, in front of the cable office. Nothing really unusual.


We checked downtown again about 4 or 5. The water was rising.


You may have heard of the flood Franklin had in 1940. The old timers say this is worse.

Sept. 17, 1999

As I looked down 2nd Ave, 3rd and 4th, I was surprised to see that the water was up significantly from the night before. I continued down High past the Methodist Church to the tracks. My heart came up in my throat when I saw the tracks under water. Obviously, I wasn’t going to get to Main Street by the tracks.


I came back home feeling sick that I had not been smart enough last night to pull the computers and current files from the office. No one had any idea that the water would rise that high, especially that fast. My emotions ran the gamut from wanting to cry, to finding humor in the situation.

Sept. 18, 1999

The sightseers are numerous even this early (7 a.m.). I was only there for a short while before the police began to again move people out of the High Street area. It sounds like a war zone. Helicopters are everywhere — media, national guard, etc. The city has set up an emergency command post at the Hunterdale fire station. We have the National Guard, state police and local police from other areas in to assist the local police. One of the guardsmen that came in by helicopter said everything appeared normal from the air until Franklin came into view. He said it looked like a disaster. He knew he’d be here for a number of days.


Most people, even the ones whose livelihoods are under water, joke about the situation. The choice is either to cry, be angry or look on the light side.

Sept. 19, 1999

At 2 p.m., the Downtown Development membership met at the Catholic church. The idea was to formulate questions for the city and other emergency personnel at a 3 p.m. meeting to follow. Not much was accomplished, unfortunately. The 3 p.m. meeting went much better. Jim Councill introduced personnel from the post office, GTE, etc., to inform us as to mail, telephones, etc. The post office will set up windows corresponding to Franklin box numbers at the Courtland post office. Service will begin as early as next Tuesday. FEMA, SBA and others were there to brief us on government assistance. I am going to be surprised if we get much help from governmental agencies. We’ll see.

Sept. 20, 1999

It’s getting old having to drive 15 to 20 miles in the country to use a phone. But, if you want to be assured that you can get through, it’s got to be done.


My main telephone calls were to barbecue places to locate one that would cater a dinner for all of the emergency personnel in Franklin. Franklin Baptist is paying for the dinner. When I asked the volunteers that are feeding these people when they wanted the food, they said tomorrow night. I checked with 3 places before I got one to do the catering on short notice. Pierce’s Barbecue out of Williamsburg will be doing the catering. They will be serving between 400 to 500 people. That’s how many people are here trying to service this disaster. A rather nice donation — almost $5,000.

Sept. 21, 1999

An additional 100 state troopers have been called in as a result of some minor looting night before last. The emergency personnel now total in excess of 500 individuals. Every governmental agency, federal and state, is represented.


I applied for our FEMA number today. That was an experience. In order to be eligible for low interest loans, etc., we are required to call an 800 number, which turned out to be a call to Texas, and talk to a FEMA agent. FEMA stands for Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA takes a telephone application, gives the applicant a number and then connects them with SBA (Small Business Administration), which administers loans, etc.

After I held for about 15 minutes, a young lady came on and began to take my information. Talking to her was like talking to a computer. She required me to file the application under my social security number, even though our businesses that were damaged all have their own tax ID; she insisted that the City of Franklin, VA, had not been declared a disaster area; when I suggested that she file the application as though Franklin was in Southampton, she let me know that there was not a Southampton County in VA. She ended up filing our application in the County of Hampton, even though there is no such entity.

Have you ever heard that you are supposed to run when someone says, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you”? It was probably appropriate that my cellular phone cut off immediately after she transferred me to the SBA.

The Tidewater News today wraps up its three-part series commemorating the 10th anniversary of the flood of 1999, but we continue to welcome readers’ reflections, which we will publish through the end of the month. Send to editor@tidewaternews.com or hand-deliver to our offices at 1000 Armory Drive.