It's been only two days, but Sosie Hublitz already has come to terms with the reality that her new and popular restaurant was flooded to the ceiling by the torrential rains that soaked Virginia's capital city on Monday night.
On this day, her thoughts are on whether her business -- and the devastated Shockoe Bottom neighborhood -- will rise again.
"It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of help," said Hublitz, the owner of the Kitchen Table, who opened her first restaurant in Richmond 15 years ago. "It's going to be a tough process to get us back to where we were. . . . I hope we get the help."
With the death toll from Tropical Storm Gaston now at seven in Virginia, cleanup crews continued to dig cars out of sludge and clear glass from the streets. Power was restored to almost all of the city and surrounding counties, and merchants began to return to assess damage, which city officials said totaled at least $15 million.
Richmond's leaders have been working for years to revitalize the city, which has been declining in population for nearly 50 years while crime and poverty increased.
Their efforts hinge on neighborhoods like Shockoe Bottom, the area hardest hit by the storm. Twenty blocks of the neighborhood have been surrounded by police tape, and 19 building have been condemned, officials said.
They would like "the Bottom" to play a role similar to that of Seventh Street NW in the District, a commercial and residential hub that can attract new business and residents.
"This is one of the neighborhoods that we see as helping continue our success," said Mayor Rudolph C. McCollum, whose city also was hard hit by Hurricane Isabel last fall and by a fire at the Virginia Commonwealth University campus in March that destroyed about two dozen buildings.
There has been more investment here in the past few years, including the construction of a new convention center and development of the city's first mall in a generation.
"We're going to have to work very hard to make sure we can continue our recent successes," McCollum said.
Indeed, Shockoe Bottom, a vestige of Old Richmond where 17th-century merchants sold not only tobacco and fruits but also slaves, has been a magnet for thousands of young professionals. In the past three years, 2,500 apartment units and two dozen restaurants have opened in the community.
Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) has requested that President Bush issue a major disaster declaration for the area so it can receive aid.
While there was some pessimism about the immediate future, many residents and merchants said they would try to return, even though they did not have the flood insurance that would have eased the way back.
"It's bad, but I'm going to come back," said Janelle Smith, the owner of Wildcats, a bar on Main Street. She moved from Florida in April to start her business in the Bottom.
"The building isn't totally destroyed," she said, "so I think I can make it back okay."
Officials assessing the situation throughout the region said the most severe damage was to residences, businesses, sewers, streets and highways in Richmond and Chesterfield and Henrico counties.
In those three jurisdictions, an estimated 350 single-family homes, apartment units and mobile homes were either destroyed or heavily damaged. More than 230 businesses were affected by floodwaters. The Virginia Department of Transportation said damages to state and federal roads will total more than $12 million.
"The neighborhood has really shown a lot of resilience," said former Democratic governor L. Douglas Wilder, who is running for mayor. Wilder, who lives in a Shockoe Bottom apartment, toured the devastated neighborhoods Tuesday and attended a community forum Wednesday evening. "But we're going to have to revisit some of our infrastructure to make sure this doesn't happen again."
Indeed, many merchants -- mostly independent owners -- discussed the need for the city to do something about the sewer system, which was backlogged as water rushed into Shockoe Bottom, the lowest land in the city.
"The neighborhood was beginning to show promise," said Hublitz, whose Kitchen Table restaurant opened last year and is typical of the new wave of businesses. "I have faith in the community; we just are going to have to work together."