Fanny Edwards, 86, leaned wearily on her cane and searched for solace the day after flooding forced her and 28 other senior citizens to evacuate their group home in this Southside city.
"It could be worse. We could have had no place to go," Edwards said. "We can thank the Lord for that."
As it was, Edwards and more than 100 of her neighbors were high and dry and eating hot meals at the local high school after the Blackwater River flooded this mill town and other waterways jumped their banks to sever much of the state's southeastern corner from the rest of Virginia. The devastation is on a scale not seen here for generations.
Hundreds of secondary roads and about 30 main traffic arteries were still shut today, and southbound lanes of the region's main north-south highway, Interstate 95, remained closed to all but emergency traffic south of Petersburg, according to state police. I-95 could remain shut for at least part of Monday, police said. Some rivers in eastern North Carolina are still rising, and more rain is expected in the area.
"You just feel so sorry for these people," said Col. M. Wayne Huggins, the state police superintendent, who was supervising an emergency task force of more than 45 troopers, half of whom came to Franklin over the weekend from other parts of the state.
Huggins escorted Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) and other officials on a tour of Franklin on Friday as the flood waters began to crest before dropping several inches today.
Still, the city's historic downtown remained under about 10 feet of water that has deluged about 180 businesses and several homes. Dozens of vehicles parked curbside were submerged. Only six inches of the roof of one of them--a camper--was visible today. Officials have ordered residents to stay away from the water, which is contaminated after the community's sewage treatment system was washed out.
Smoking has been banned within 100 feet of the flood waters, which are covered with an oil slick from leaking fuel tanks and oil barrels.
Today, hazardous-materials teams and other workers continued to corral the dislodged tanks and barrels that have been bobbing down Franklin's inundated streets. By yesterday, about 100 had been recovered, emergency workers said.
Kostas Alibertis, an ambulance driver from Charlottesville, said he was sent to Franklin to relieve rescue crews that had been working here since Friday, in the hours after Hurricane Floyd lashed this low-lying corner of Virginia.
Alibertis said he and other teams from central Virginia were monitoring the fuel fumes that had forced the evacuation of Edwards and the other residents of Baker's Home for Adults.
Edwards, a Franklin resident since 1938, had a vague recollection of the 1941 flood that ravaged downtown, but she and other old-timers said it was nothing compared with this weekend's devastation.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Mayor Jim Councill, who called an emergency town meeting at 4 p.m. today to reassure city residents and neighbors from Southampton and Isle of Wight counties about the restoration of drinking water and telephone services.
Councill told the hundreds of people who filled the high school auditorium to overflowing that he will hold a briefing every afternoon for several days. "We want to make sure we have the most of you here to give you the most information," Councill said.
Much of the area--a pine-and-peanuts region that relies heavily on agriculture--was a ghost town today as swollen creeks and rivers turned already swampy terrain into lakes several miles wide.
In Southampton County, which surrounds Franklin, 17,500 homes had no phone service, and cell phone traffic was so heavy that residents were encouraged to use their wireless phones for emergencies only.
The Nottaway River, just west of here, continued to rise today, leaving about 75 percent of local roads impassable, officials said. County governments and emergency services were providing case after case of bottled water, and crews from Virginia Power struggled to restore electrical service to as many rural communities as possible.
"All along the Blackwater River, there is devastation," said Douglas Caskey, the county administrator in Isle of Wight, who attended Councill's briefing. "It's extremely critical. There's been no loss of life, and that's such a blessed situation . . . but we consider ourselves, still, to be in this event."
Ray Thomas, production manager at the 1,500-employee International Paper mill, said it would be several days before the largest employer in this city of 8,500 was up and running again.
But "we have much to be thankful for," Thomas said.
A team of a dozen volunteers from Richmond took over the high school's kitchen to prepare meals for Edwards and others seeking shelter, and Ward Hildreth, the leader, said the 250 people who came for dinner Saturday night had grown to 600 for lunch this afternoon.
"We go where the disaster is, whether it's tornadoes or a flood," said Hildreth, whose rescue team is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Church. "We never see the disaster--the Red Cross is on the scene. But we sure cook a lot of meals."
CAPTION: Franklin residents gather outside the auditorium of Franklin High School, where Mayor Jim Councill discussed the flood situation yesterday afternoon.
CAPTION: Virginia State Game Warden Shawn P. Hopson patrols near a peanut plant in Franklin, Va., on Saturday. The Blackwater River overflowed its banks, overrunning this town in the southeastern corner of the state.
CAPTION: Emergency workers in boats position a containment boom in Franklin on Saturday. Smoking was banned within 100 feet of the flood waters, because of fears that an oil slick on the water, from leaking fuel tanks and oil barrels, could ignite.