A rainy morning did little to slow the retreat of water from this flooded city today. But as each new patch of downtown emerged, the catastrophic extent of the damage became clearer.
Street signs reappeared, and awnings from businesses hung a few feet above water for the first time in days. Ten more feet of street saw the afternoon sunshine. City officials estimated flood levels to be three feet below their peak on Monday, when 12 feet of water covered downtown.
They had good news this morning when a predicted rainstorm passed mostly to the south, leaving this small city near the North Carolina border with less than one-third of an inch of rain, not enough to slow the receding waters back into the Blackwater River. The forecast is for dry weather through the weekend.
"Good things are happening," said Franklin Mayor Jim Councill.
But dark stains on the downtown buildings showed where the flood waters had peaked. Emergency crews have pulled more than 200 fuel drums from the water. The smell of diesel fuel lingered. The water reportedly contains a stew of hazards, including raw sewage, fertilizers, chemicals and dead animals.
City and emergency officials fear many downtown buildings are damaged beyond repair. Some will be damaged even more as the waters drain and waterlogged walls come under new stress.
The National Weather Service predicted that it will take three to five more days for downtown Franklin to be dry. Even then, it will not be safe. Officials are planning to inspect each of the 182 submerged businesses and about 150 homes for contamination and structural safety before owners can return.
Meanwhile, state emergency officials increased their estimate of Floyd's damage in Virginia, saying today that the storm had caused $101 million in losses, including damage to about 9,250 homes.
Many roads in southeastern Virginia remained closed, including a stretch of Route 460 near Zuni. Almost 600 members of the Virginia National Guard were still deployed throughout the storm-ravaged area.
A contingent of 100 additional state troopers were on the way to Franklin to keep owners and curiosity seekers from entering downtown before hazards are removed. Officials say some unsafe buildings will have to razed.
Officials today began sampling the soil and water to get an early fix on the extent of contamination. Inspections of buildings left dry by receding flood waters could begin as soon as Wednesday.
At a meeting of local business people, the crowd cheered when International Paper, the largest local employer, announced that it would reopen its downtown plant as soon as possible. The company also pledged $250,000 in flood relief.
The mood remained somber otherwise. Phone service has not been restored in the city.
A desk and a laptop computer were among the debris left behind by the water today. Business owners said vital records, computers, furniture, equipment and cars are among the things they had to leave behind during the unexpected flood, which began in the hours after Hurricane Floyd passed by the city Thursday afternoon.
"All kinds of stuff are starting to wash up now," said Sgt. David Welch, of the Franklin police.
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Suffolk, Va., firefighter Patricia Nowell moves a box of supplies destined for neighboring Franklin, which has experienced heavy flooding.