Four days a week for nearly 50 years, Rosa Fleming has taken the white cabbage, potatoes and tomatoes from her family's Hanover County farm and sold them in this city's Shockoe Bottom neighborhood. The business has spanned four generations and had sat in the same spot all that time.
Fleming returned Friday with her sister and discovered that six hours of rain had done something that more than a century of changing times could not: destroy the family business.
"A harvest all gone," she said, shaking her head under the shade of a nearby tree. "We started planting in the spring, picked all those vegetables -- now they're in the river. All of it gone. A summer's worth of work, gone."
On Friday, President Bush declared the region a major disaster, as Fleming and other business owners and residents in the historic Shockoe Bottom district were allowed back in unescorted for the first time since Monday, when the neighborhood was devastated by 14 inches of rain from Tropical Storm Gaston.
Most of the residents had experiences similar to those of Fleming and her sister Luceal Allen: Their restaurants, coffeehouses and small consulting firms were destroyed as water rushed through the streets of the low-lying community near the James River.
Some were pioneers, such as Fleming, who would not give her age, and Allen, 69; others were newcomers. "We've lost it all," said Sara Tandy, 22, the co-owner of 17.5 Ethos Cafe, a coffee shop that opened in June. Tandy's and Fleming's businesses stood on 17th Street, a main thoroughfare where many storefronts are splattered with mud, their windows broken or cracked. In the cafe, a brass coffee grinder had toppled over, as had chairs and tables.
"We started this with our only $3,000 . . . and we don't have any flood insurance," Tandy said.
Many shop owners -- picking through overturned desks, mud-encrusted computers or soggy files -- said they were without insurance and would have to begin as they started: from scratch. The row of restaurants and shops along 17th Street had become a center of nightlife not only for the neighborhood, but also for the city, and now it was filled with a stench of rotting dairy products and old vegetables.
"I'm not sure how we're going to get back to where we were," said Phil Conein, the co-owner of a computer consulting business that has been on 17th Street for a dozen years. He toured the wreckage of his store with a city inspector and remarked that the water had been so powerful that he still couldn't find the vending machine that once had been in the center of his office.
City officials said that though the storm caused $62 million in damage, they were unsure how much they will lose in tax receipts generated from Shockoe businesses. Each year, the neighborhood brings in several million dollars from the restaurants, stores and shops, as well as the farmer's market that has stood in the same place since 1737. The city has been banking on neighborhoods like Shockoe Bottom to spur a revitalization of the city, which has experienced population losses for several decades.
"It is going to be a hit, there's no question about it. Shockoe Bottom is a significant resource to the city," said John Woodward, director of the city's economic development department.
Bush's disaster declaration makes federal funding available to property owners in Richmond, Colonial Heights, Hopewell and Petersburg and in Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Hanover, Henrico and Prince George counties.
Meanwhile Friday, police departments in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield released more details on some of the eight deaths attributed to the storm.
In Henrico County on Monday evening, police said, Mary Ann Richardson, 59, was swept away from her Dodge minivan as she was trying to make her way home. In Richmond, two men were killed when they were swept out of their pickup, said Cynthia Price, a police spokeswoman.
"We're still trying to put all the pieces together," Price said.
As residents and merchants began cleaning up, there was some quiet grumbling about whether city officials had done all they could since Monday.
"I think you have some concerns from people who said they were unable to get accurate information," said Eric Anderson, the co-president of a local residents group. "We're going to be taking a look at what people's concerns are and try to inform the city on those concerns."
But city officials said Richmond had done everything it could to inform residents about a storm that meteorologists said was unexpected and sudden.
In the meantime, merchants said they would try to start over again.
"It's going to take us some time," said Allen, who has been tending to the family farm and farmer's market business since she was 10 years old. "We'll just have to get back and start planting again."