Residents, business owners recall Hurricane Floyd flood

Published 11:14 am Saturday, September 20, 2014

Downtown Franklin

Downtown Franklin

By Stephen H. Cowles/Staff Writer

and Cain Madden/Managing Editor

Franklin—The Tidewater News’ Staff Writer Stephen H. Cowles and Managing Editor Cain Madden sat down with residents and business owners talking about Hurricane Floyd, which came through on Sept. 16, 1999.

The flood that followed had downtown Franklin, many homes and many crops underwater. No one had forgotten the damage that was caused, and they never would. They also would not forget how Western Tidewater had come together to heal.

David Rabil
Owner, Freds Restaurant

“It was a devastating thing. I came in the morning of the hurricane…my staff called about coming in and I said just wait until the afternoon. Russ Pace [of the City] called and asked if I could feed some National Guard members, and I said ‘No way.’

“Finally it stopped raining, and on my way home I saw a little water — about a foot — sitting and not drawing down. I thought to myself, ‘Gee, whiz.’ I never opened Fred’s that day.

“That night I came back by the tracks. Police said flooding was expected by morning. I got sandbags and duct-taped the windows and door. The rest is a big old smelly history. I really didn’t expect water to be in here. The next day it was knee-deep. It was a mess. I’d go to the top of the hill daily to see what was going on.

“My daughter was in her first year at the University of Virginia, and my wife and I decided to go visit. Saturday night I got a call that people were being let into their buildings. I went back…We had 20 minutes at a time to inspect…and when I opened the door, I about lost it. Basically the place was gutted.

“Thank God for the folks who helped us out. During the recovery it was hard to find people to work because everyone was going through the same thing.

“It was eight months to the day before I was back in business.”

Teresa B. Beale
Executive Director of the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce

“No one could believe what we were seeing. Our downtown underwater! When we were escorted back in to survey the damage in the Chamber building, Main Street looked like a weird movie set. It was very quiet and eerie. I will never forget the efforts from the many people who worked together to recover from this disaster.”

Margaret Mackan
Owner, Mackans Office Supply

“Parker Darden called, he was our next-door neighbor, and said there was water coming at your back door and you need to come down here. So we did. We had approximately 30 minutes to go in and grab what we could. We do the Smithfield Calendar, and Susan had just gotten the original artwork. So we just got that out of the way. My son-in-law was able to take the truck that we had and drive it down the railroad track to get it out of as much water as we could. So we were able to save that.

“The next morning, when we drove downtown to see what happened. It was like looking at the Chesapeake Bay. I grew up in Norfolk, as did my husband, so we were used to the water. It just — It just about killed us. The water stayed for a very long time.

“We met as a family. The business was in a back bedroom. And we basically ran the business out of the house. Then, Herman Survivors gave us a room in a building, that we could have presence on Armory Drive for people to visit us. But as you well know, when something happens, business is going to go down.

“Of course, all of the windows had blown out of our building. And things disappeared. There was a huge desk about in the middle of the store that had lots of stuff on it. And we never saw it again. Yet, in the back of the store, where Susan had just finished printing the Franklin High School Football Programs. They were sitting right on the table. They never moved. The flood did very crazy, crazy things.

“We had to tear everything down to the bare, including the walls and floor. The people that came, just showed up to help, were incredible. When we got it out, except for the flooring. People from Midlothian Methodist Church came down, and wanted to know what they could do. And in one day, they stripped out all of the tile. All of the tile on the floor. Now, there are 5,000 square feet in that store. I am not talking about young people, I am talking about middle-aged people who just showed up to help. Everything was just thrown out on the curve.

“My youngest daughter had just found out she was pregnant. So her job was to stay out of the downtown area, and to keep my husband from going nuts. And my oldest daughter was charged with keeping the business going as best we could.

“Fortunately, S.W. Rawls, had put together a coalition of people that helped us, as well as the other people in downtown Franklin, tremendously. We were able to keep the process going pretty well, so that we were back in our renovated building by about May 25th. I think it was five days after my youngest grandson was born, so my daughter was there, as well, to be in on that. We were some of the first ones to be able to get it back together and get downtown.”

Billy Phillips
Retired owner of the former Billy Phillips Ltd., men’s clothier

“No one was prepared for the hurricane. We lived between the Episcopal and Christian churches at the time. The command center was near where we lived. When we found out for sure the water was coming in, I ran down. My wife was shouting at me not to go. Going down the road by the railroad track, I ran past an officer who tried to stop me. I said, ‘You’ll have to shoot me in the back. Everything I owned is down there.’

“I started putting things up as high as I could get them. Records and, receipts went upstairs. When I couldn’t go up and down the stairs anymore I put things up on shelves as I high as I could. I kept working. I heard a breaker blow up outside and went to the breaker and turned off my own lights in the store. Late that afternoon, the water kept coming up and I kept watching. At 11 that night we were told it was going to be at least a foot or two deep.

“It was six or seven days before I could go to inspect the damage. What the water didn’t get, the mold did. The mold was black on the floor, and hanging down [like stalactites] from the walls and ceiling. Racks of tuxedo shoes were black at the bottom, white in the middle and kind of green at the top.

“I didn’t have the money to get the stock back. I never fully recovered. I did all right, but I couldn’t get back the stock.”

Toni Phillips
Billy Phillips’ wife:

“We were in town. It’s kind of like a nightmare to think about it again.

“We lived right beside the Christian church. I can remember Billy going downtown late at night.

Water came up into our backyard, but we never had to leave. Of course we had no electricity or anything. It was just so, so bad for him. Everything we had was tied up into that store. We didn’t own our home.

“It was devastating to everybody, and an awful whammy to us. It was our livelihood in more ways than one.”

Shirley Munford Vasser
Burdette Resident

“I was at home and my husband [the late Edward L. Vasser Sr.] said, ‘We need to get a generator.’ And we did, lucky us. We used it for around three weeks…We used the phone for five days until it [a substation] blew. We had no idea that Franklin was covered in water.

“People did help people afterward. Our community is always willing to help out. The fire department came by and offered cases of water.

“I never heard so many frog in my life.

“We live in the garden spot of the world. Moving was not an option.”