-- The tokens of kindness began the day after the storm blew through this city. A neighbor offered Gene Carter a pair of new sneakers. Then came an offer of money from someone who could be described as only an acquaintance. Soon after, his parents' neighbors called from Spotsylvania, offering anything they could.
After the remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston flooded his downtown apartment on Monday and forced him out, Carter has been piecing his life together with help from others -- and the sense that although his furniture, his car, his clothes, his shoes and sentimental possessions are gone, he'll come out of this disaster intact.
"I'm homeless and have to start all my life over again. That's the reality," said Carter, 27, a medical technician at the Medical College of Virginia. He has been living with his girlfriend on this city's West End and now plans to stay with his cousin a few miles away until he can reassemble the necessities.
Like many residents of 17th Street in Shockoe Bottom near the James River, he was trapped in his apartment building until early Tuesday morning and watched as water engulfed his community and then receded.
"But people have been supportive, doing anything they can, and I just have to feel that this is something that I'll get through," Carter said.
Hundreds of people have similar stories -- and similar attitudes -- about being displaced after 14 inches of rain fell here in a six-hour period Monday. While city officials report that dozens of people used a shelter set up for flood victims, many, such as Carter, have bunked with friends and relatives. Some residents have been escorted home temporarily by city police officers to collect essentials such as medicine, pets or a change of clothes.
Many of the uprooted residents are single and had moved to the area only recently. They have spent the night in friends' homes, on cots, sofa beds or sleeping bags on the floor.
"I consider myself lucky because I didn't have any damage to my apartment and I've had people to look after me," said Chris Abel, 33, a high school teacher who spent the previous two nights at a friend's house west of the city. He moved into his apartment in Shockoe Bottom last year, one of hundreds of young professionals drawn to this reemerging neighborhood.
"I've had to wear the same three shirts for the past couple of days, but besides that, I've been able to manage," Abel said.
Those who work in Shockoe Bottom said a spirit of camaraderie in the community of about 5,000 residents is easing the lot of those who were flooded out. The neighborhood, in a valley between residential Church Hill to the east and downtown to the west, is filled with restaurants, bars and small boutiques, most of them independently owned.
"This is a resilient community where people look after one another," said Erika Gay, executive director of the River District Alliance, an organization that works with community businesses. "We've had no shortage of people who want to volunteer."
Cleanup throughout the city continued Thursday. Federal authorities surveyed the damage for the first time, meeting with city officials. The storm made roads and bridges impassible. As many as 70 buildings remained without power Thursday, and city officials raised their damage estimates to $62 million. Richmond police identified an eighth victim of the flooding, Frank Underdew, 57.
"We're hoping that we can begin letting people in on Friday," City Manager Calvin Jamison said in an interview. Inspectors have condemned 20 of about 230 buildings in the neighborhood, and portions of nine other buildings have been condemned.
"We're taking it one day at a time," he said.
In addition, state highway crews continued working to open about 120 roads blocked by Gaston in central Virginia, officials said. Clearing Richmond's streets will cost $12 million, officials said.
In the meantime, salvaging individual lives is a day-to-day process. Carter, who fit all his usable belongings into a pair of black garbage bags, said he will remember the flood as "biblical" in proportion.
"It was scary at times," he said. "But now it's time to move on and start over."