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Virginia Flooding Drives Thousands From Their Homes

June 29, 1995

BUENA VISTA, Va. (AP) _ Flooding rivers and creeks chased thousands of people from their homes Wednesday as rain soaked Virginia for a sixth day.

In the Blue Ridge Mountains, where 6.6 inches of rain fell in Buena Vista in the 24 hours ending at 5 p.m., Michael Fowler was packing his pickup with the family’s possessions when the spreading Maury River caught him.

``Before I could get away, the water came up and stalled my truck,″ Fowler said. He grabbed his children and slogged through waist-deep water to reach rescuers.

Fowler was among about 2,600 people forced from their homes in Rockbridge County, where some houses were washed away and about 800 were damaged, emergency services spokesman Bob Claytor said.

One death has been blamed on the flooding and divers, dogs and boaters searched the state’s mountainous northern tip until evening for a 3-year-old girl swept into a stream a day earlier. The search was to resume Thursday.

In north-central Virginia, a woman whose house was swept away Tuesday was still missing late Wednesday after a helicopter search, while a Coast Guard helicopter rescued a woman and her 3-month-old infant from their flooded farm, then lifted a severely overweight and incapacitated woman from her home to higher ground.

At least six counties set up shelters, though displaced residents were likely hard-pressed to find a safe route to the shelters because so many roads were washed out or submerged.

``People were driven out, boated out, carried out, flown out _ we got them to safety any way we could,″ said Bill Todd, assistant fire chief in Glasgow, a Rockbridge County town of 1,250 people where the Maury and James rivers converge.

With about half of Glasgow flooded, the Red Cross set up shelters in school buildings but most people stayed with relatives, friends or in hotels.

Traffic backed up for three miles outside Buena Vista when mud and rock loosened by days of rain crashed down a mountain and temporarily blocked two main roads into town.

Aggravating the misery, Virginia Power Co. temporarily cut power to Buena Vista when a substation flooded, disrupting service to about 3,700 customers.

It was the second flood in a week for residents of southwestern Virginia. Heavy rain last Thursday flooded homes and caused a dam near Lynchburg to collapse. Two people were killed in the surge.

On Tuesday, Gov. George Allen declared a state of emergency for all but the eastern and western tips of the state, allowing the National Guard to aid rescue efforts. He viewed the damage from a helicopter.

``I saw a lot of devastation. Bridges are washed out,″ Allen said. ``The priority has been getting people out of trees.‴