washingtonpost.com  > Metro > Virginia

Floodwater Surges Before Their Eyes

Rescued Residents Recall Their Fright and the Screams of the Trapped

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 1, 2004; Page B01

RICHMOND, Aug. 31 -- The terror is all still right there, still unmistakable in Edward Woodson's eyes when he talks about the flood -- about being carried for 45 minutes by a fierce current of foul water running down a railroad bed, about slamming into railroad ties and tree limbs, about the man on the banks who tried in vain to reach him.

The deadly storm was over for the 50-year-old when he crashed into an engine stranded on the tracks but was saved by the two freight train workers who were stuck there themselves.

_____Free E-mail Newsletters_____
• News Headlines
• News Alert

But the homeless Richmond man's injury remained Tuesday: a torn ligament across his left palm, where he had reached under the violent water, grasped onto a rail for stability and just slid a half-mile. His fingertips were swollen and burnt from the rail as well.

"I was just fighting for dear life," said Woodson, who had been staying near the tracks when Monday's storm hit. Now in a blue hospital outfit and a sling, Woodson widened his eyes and hunched his shoulders -- dazed and drawing into himself as he spoke at the shelter set up at Richmond's Arthur Ashe Center. "I'm just alive. I'm just alive."

More than a foot of rain fell in Richmond on Monday, killing five people, causing millions of dollars in damage and flooding roads, homes and businesses. Hundreds of people fled the rising waters in dramatic ways.

JacQueline Goode, 27, and her two children had a flood story less violent, but scary nonetheless, of spending the entire night on her bed in a darkened apartment, watching the muddy, fetid water rise, terrified because they couldn't open the door or windows.

"The water would just rush in, and it was coming from under the walls, too," said Goode, who lives on the city's East Side. The phones were dead, and her cell phone didn't work, either. Goode, her 9-year-old son and her 5-year-old daughter all stayed awake, too scared to sleep. "We were just praying that sunlight would come."

Goode was also at Arthur Ashe, wondering where she was going to get the money to buy another set of school clothes; each family member had rescued only two dry items. Her daughter skipped around the shelter, wearing one black sandal and one black patent leather shoe, half-shiny and half-muddy.

There were hundreds of stories in the city's worst-hit section, Shockoe Bottom. Tuesday, the neighborhood looked like a supermarket had been blown up, with eggs and cabbage and fruit on the street and in the nearby canal.

Luissa Alba, 28, of Florida, a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, returned to her apartment building about 4:30 p.m. Monday to try to rescue her car. But within 45 minutes, she was huddled in her third-floor apartment with about a dozen others, watching the waters rise.

"It turned into white-water rapids," she said. "Our cars disappeared. It was like little kids' Matchbox cars."

Alba saw people in cars hanging out their sunroofs, screaming for help as the vehicles were swept aside. She saw cars crash into the building in front of her apartment, causing the building to collapse.

Four hours after calling police, Alba and her friends were rescued. Two at a time, they climbed out the window and into small inflatable boats with small motors.

"The worst was hearing people screaming," she said.

Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company