Disasters in Richmond
The State of Virginia has had seven federally declared disasters since 1996.
Floods in Richmond:
For Richmond, a city still physically and psychologically scarred by war, 1870 was the "Year of Disasters." Several deadly fires, a drought, a major flood and the death of Robert E. Lee plunged the city into dismay for much of that year.
1870 James River flood
Worst James River flood since 1771. Low areas of city submerges. Residents evacuate but many lives lost, 20 homes are swept away. Mayo's Bridge wrecked, gasworks and waterworks put out of commission. Damage estimated at $1 million.
1882 James River flood
Flood equal to 1870 disaster. Mayo's Bridge washed out again. Haxall Canal so damaged that there is an unsuccessful proposal to ambandon it.
1985 James River flood
1700 E. Main Street on November 4-7, 1985. Photo by Jeffrey Ruggles.
The question on the minds of many: Will the city build a flood wall?
The answer came in 1988 when work finally began. It was erected in parts and completed in 1994.
Click here to link to the Discover Richmond Tour of the Richmond Flood Wall Park.
2003 Hurricane Isabel
On September 18, 2003, Richmond had drenching rains and winds up to 100 mph. Over 10,000 trees fell in the city, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper. Hurricane Isabel was the most expensive disaster in the history of Virginia, costing over $1.85 billion in damage, causing over 1.8 million people to lose electricity and 36 deaths.
Experience it! See a video by William T. Hark on YouTube.
Map showing areas declared eligible for federal disaster relief.
2004 Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Gaston Stalls Over Richmond
Photo by Ken Weber, August 31, 2004
The flood wall didn't help in this case. 14 inches of rain in 8 hours overwhelmed many storm drains which backed up behind the flood wall. The James River was recorded at 10 feet over flood stage.
A local businessman, Ken Weber, took many dramatic photographs (website).
2006 Tropical Depression (formerly Hurricane) Ernesto
On September 1, 2006 Richmond was drenched by rains from former Hurricane Ernesto, which first made landfall in Cuba on August 28. The storm weakened upon landfall but gained intensity as it re-entered the Atlantic and accelerated northward along the coast. After landfall on Oak Island, North Carolina, Ernesto weakened and was reclassified as a tropical depression, then transitioned into an extratropical cyclone. Gov. Tim Kaine declared a state of emergency on August 31 and opened the new Virginia Emergency Operations Center. With heavy rainfall producing over 12 inches of rain and wind gusts peaking at 87 mph, power outages and flash floods caused over $118 million in damage in Virginia alone.
2011 Hurricane Irene
The last week of August has many in Virginia on edge. August 27, 2011, just a few days after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake, heavy rains, winds gusting up to 70 mph, and downed trees from Hurricane Irene brought Virginia its second largest power failure in history. Over 2.5 million people lost electricity. Four people were killed by falling trees.
Earthquakes in Richmond:
Virginia has had over 160 earthquakes since 1977 of which 16% were felt. This equates to an average of one earthquake occurring every month with two felt each year.
1875. Dec. 23 (Dec. 22). Central Virginia. The highest intensities from this earthquake occurred mainly at towns near the James River waterfront in Goochland and Powhatan Counties, and in Louisa County. In Richmond (Henrico County), the most severe damage was sustained in the downtown business and residential areas adjacent to the James River or on islands in the river. Damage included bricks knocked from chimneys, fallen plaster, an overturned stove, and several broken windows. Waves "suddenly rose several feet" at the James River dock at Richmond, causing boats to "part their cables" and drift below the wharf. At Manakin, about 20 km west of Richmond, shingles were shaken from a roof and many lamps and chimneys were broken. Several small aftershocks were reported through Jan. 2, 1876. Felt from Baltimore, Md., to Greensboro, N.C., and from the Atlantic Coast westward to Greenbrier and White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Magnitude 4.5 Mfa NUT. (Ref 55, 167, 365.)
1897. May 31. Giles County. This earthquake was the largest in intensity and aerial extent in Virginia in historical times. MM intensity VII to VIII extended over an elliptical area - from near Lynchburg, Virginia, west to Bluefield, West Virginia, and from Giles County south to Bristol, Tennessee. The MM intensity VIII assigned to this earthquake is based on "many downed chimneys" and "changes in the flow of springs."
The shock was felt severely at Narrows, about 3 kilometers west of Pearisburg. Here, the surface rolled in an undulating motion, water in springs became muddy, and water in some springs ceased to flow. The flow of water in springs also was disturbed in the area of Pearisburg, about 70 kilometers west of Roanoke, and Sugar Run.
The shock was strong at Pearisburg, where walls of old brick houses were cracked and many chimneys were thrown down or badly damaged. Many chimneys also were shaken down at Bedford, Pulaski, Radford, and Roanoke, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee; many chimneys were damaged at Christiansburg, Dublin, Floyd, Houston, Lexington, Lynchburg, Rocky Mount, Salem, Tazewell, and Wytheville, Virginia; Charlotte, Oxford, Raleigh, and Winston, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Bluefield, West Virginia. Felt from Georgia to Pennsylvania and from the Atlantic coast westward to Indiana and Kentucky. Aftershocks continued through June 6, 1897.
More earthquakes prior to 1976 in Virginia here.
Abridged from Seismicity of the United States, 1568-1989 (Revised), by Carl W. Stover and Jerry L. Coffman, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1527, United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1993.
August 23, 2011
Many in the Richmond area weren't sure what to think. It was over as quickly as it began. While the "Central Virginia Seismic Zone" has produced small and moderate earthquakes over the years, the previous large shock occurred in 1875. Although it occurred before the invention of seismographs, USGS reports it likely had a magnitude of about 4.5. The 2011 earthquake had a magnitude of 5.8. After the main tremor, aftershocks up to 4.5 magnitude continued for several weeks. Lower level aftershocks continue.
June 13, 1951: A severe tornado (F3) cut through the heart of Richmond (pop. 230,000) on this late afternoon. It left a four mile path of damage that sent a dozen people to the hospital, injured scores more, and left over a hundred homeless. Thirty-five buildings were destroyed and 126 received major damage; a 1000 buildings in all were damaged. Damage estimates were over one million dollars. The tornado was seen tossing a car 30 to 40 feet into the air. Eyewitness accounts were reported in the next day's Richmond Times-Dispatch (Vol. 101, No. 165): "It came on fast. It sounded to me like an earthquake. I saw rooftops flying through the air. Pieces of tin and trees were falling on South Granby Street. When it hit my house, the back of the house came down. All the houses along here got hit in the back, and they all were half ripped down." - Perl Price, 1835 Rosewood Avenue. "I had spotted the twister when I was near the Jefferson Hotel. It was a great swirling mass of wind, and I thought at first that there was a huge fire somewhere. There wasn't any cone or funnel, like you expect with a tornado. The wind seemed to swirl and swoop up everything from the edges, carrying leaves and debris in and up. The air seemed to be full of all kinds of objects." - Louis J. Patterson, Richmond Times-Dispatch photographer. And from the Richmond News Leader came this quote by John L. Walker: "Four different clouds - all funnel-shaped - were rushing toward the city. Each one had a tail like a kite. Then the four came together in the shape of a huge auger that picked up everything in front of it." This report suggests that it was a multi-vortex tornado with, at one point, four vortices visible. The strong Petersburg Tornado in 1993 was also a multi-vortex tornado.
Petersburg/Colonial Heights Tornado:
August 6, 1993: The first tornado touched down around 12:45 in the afternoon. It traveled 38 miles and was on the ground for about 45 minutes. Unfortunately this tornado went unreported and undetected because the next tornado to touch down struck Petersburg at 1:30 pm, just as the first one was dissipating. This was a violent F4 tornado causing major damage to the Old Towne section of Petersburg and destroying the historic community on adjacent Pocahontas Island. The tornado crossed Interstate-95 damaging several stores and businesses before smashing the Wal-Mart at South Park Mall in Colonial Heights. By this time, the tornado had weakened some, but it did considerable damage to the store killing three people and injuring 198 others when a wall and part of the roof collapsed. Urban Search and Rescue dug 50 people out of the store's rubble. The tornado continued into Prince George County where it struck a sand and gravel pit company. A cinder block building collapsed crushing a man. Finally, the storm hit Hopewell causing extensive damage to the roof and upper siding of an apartment complex before it dissipated over the James River. In all, this violent tornado tracked 12 miles. It was on the ground for 15 to 20 minutes. It killed four people, injured 238 and did 47.5 million dollars in damages. A tornado struck Newport News a little past 3 p.m. A man on the James River Bridge saw three funnel clouds over the river. Two dissipated and while the third touched down moving through the woods on the Newport News side of the river. The tornado tracked 12 miles through Newport News, Hampton and Langley Air Force Base (AFB). In Newport News, eight people were injured, 163 homes were damaged, 12 were condemned and damage costs were 1.2 million. In Hampton, two people were injured, 85 homes were damaged, 8 condemned with damage costs near three-quarters of a million dollars. On Langley AFB, the tornado damaged several F-15s parked at the end of a runway for an air show scheduled for the next day. The second strongest tornado (F2) of the day struck the City of Chesapeake around 4 p.m. It hit the Great Bridge area moving through the Etheridge communities. Fortunately, many residents were not at home. While only 35 homes were damaged, estimated costs reached 1.8 million dollars. A total of 18 tornadoes wrecked damage across Southeast Virginia in just four hours on this day setting a new record for the Commonwealth. A total of four people were killed and 259 injured and damages totaled $52.5 million making it the state's costliest tornado.