Recovery

Upriver Rain Causes the Worst Flooding in Two Decades on Rappahannock River

Flooding pushed the Rappahannock River well beyond its normal level Saturday because of heavy rains throughout the Fredericksburg region on Friday, but especially upriver to the west.

by Emily Jennings, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. / June 25, 2018

(TNS) - By 10 a.m. Saturday, the floodwater had nearly reached the basement ceiling of Jane Range’s house just east of the U.S. 1 bridge in Stafford County, Va., and was still rising.

“The entire basement is destroyed,” Range said. “We managed to get three pets and four kids out safe and away. That’s the main thing.”

She and her husband, Jeromy, were busy hauling out items they hoped to save, passing them to friends over the muddy water to dry ground from the home’s back deck.

The Range family has lived in the historic Falmouth house, built in the early 1800s, for five years.

“The house has seen a lot of floods over the years, some worse than this one,” Range said. “But we’ve only had water in the basement one other time, in May 2014. That was only about a foot and a half.”

Flooding pushed the Rappahannock River well beyond its normal level Saturday because of heavy rains throughout the Fredericksburg region on Friday, but especially upriver to the west.

From Friday night to Saturday, the Culpeper area received 2.5 inches of rain, for a total of 6 inches—more in some areas—from storms crossing the region since Thursday, said Jeremy Geiger, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. Precipitation in that region drains into Rappahannock River.

As of 3:30 p.m. Saturday, the NWS upgraded its forecast for flooding in Fredericksburg from moderate to major. A crest at 7:15 p.m. Saturday of just above 25 feet makes this one of the worst floods since 1972, when rainfall from Hurricane Agnes caused the river to crest at 39 feet.

“I’ve seen the river this high before,” said Irma Clifton, who has lived in Falmouth 41 years. “But what’s different is that this is the fourth time it’s been high this year. It’s the frequency that concerns me.”

Clifton’s home is higher up the banks from the Ranges, where she says it doesn’t flood. But she worries about the Range family and others she knows are fighting the water now.

“I’m very concerned for them, I wish I knew what to do to help,” she said.

Her neighbor, who lives next door to the Ranges in the Moncure-Conway house, moved things out Friday night and relocated his cars to higher ground. “He’s been through a lot of these and knows what precautions to take,” she said.

In addition to River Road in Falmouth being closed for the flooding, Fall Hill Avenue in Fredericksburg was also covered with water and was barricaded between the Virginia Outdoor Center and the intersection of Fall Hill and Caroline Streets.

The city also closed parts of Sophia Street along the river and warned people who had parked in that area to move their cars as floodwaters swirled into lots there.

“I’m luckier than most, the flooding doesn’t affect me too much,” said D.J. Hole, who is a heating and air conditioning specialist. He and his wife Rachel and their sons, ages 6 and 7, were out early Saturday morning to view the flooding.

“The worst thing for me is it’s destroyed fishing for the last couple months, I haven’t caught much of anything,” he said. “Just a few tiny minnows and such.”

Hole said he wanted his boys to see how the water has covered where they normally go to fish. He brought them to a spot off Sophia Street on Rocky Lane, where one of the pontoon boat bridges was constructed during the Civil War for Union soldiers to cross into Fredericksburg.

It is there where the gauge used by the NWS is located to keep tabs on river levels.

“I brought them here a couple weeks ago when it was high before,” Hole said. “We thought that was amazing. And now it’s at least four or five feet higher.”

Victor Podbielski, deputy emergency manager for the Fredericksburg Fire Department, said he knows people living along Sophia Street and other areas near the water have most likely taken on water, but he doesn’t yet have any confirmed numbers of homes or businesses affected by the floodwaters.

“Also we’re not sure how long it will take to go down once it’s crested,” Podbielski said Saturday. “We’ve been disappointed with the news all day as the river has kept rising. We’re watching closely for it to start going down. Hopefully it will go down pretty quickly.

“Tomorrow we’ll do the best we can to open up roadways and parking lots. The parks themselves most likely won’t open up till next week. Once the water starts going down it will take several days, and we’ll have crews out there working on clearing debris.”

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