Gaston 10 years later: Could flooding happen again?

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Ten years ago, Gaston slammed into Central Virginia and turned parts of downtown Richmond into raging torrents, which swept away everything in the path.

Cars floating down roadways as if they were toy boats for a child to play with and water rushing over the tops of cars, at times so high it reached the windows of school buses are images you don't expect to see in a city. Those images are etched in the minds of every Richmonder who lived through the devastation that was Gaston.

Back then, Bob Steidel was the Deputy Director of Utilities for Richmond.

"We'd never seen it before," he said of the flooding.

Ten years later, he's been promoted to the city's Director of Utilities

"There was no capacity left anywhere for the water to go," he explained.

There's a misconception the floodwall caused issues. We've learned that wall is actually designed to keep river water from coming into the city. In Gaston, however, they had to get water that was in the city out to the river and closing the floodwall would have made things worse.

So what about now? What would happen if that same amount of water poured into the city today---with the answer to that comes perhaps the most glaring finding of our investigation.

"You would see almost the exact same outcome with a few tenths of a foot here," Steidel responded when we asked what would happen if another Gaston were to hit our area again.

He said there is nothing the City of Richmond could build that would prevent it.

"We can't do anything about it," he stated. "It's a storm that's bigger than anything we could ever build and we realized that from the beginning that we were never going to build an infrastructure to make Gaston not happen again. The things that we could build are not within the realm of possibility."

That may be frightening news, but here's the reality—Steidel believes Gaston was a storm we would see once in a thousand years. When it hit, our infrastructure could only support a storm we see once every five years. Since then, the City of Richmond has made improvements that would allow it to endure a once in fifty year storm.

Those more realistic improvements cost the city about $310 million.

That flooding was just part of the story of Gaston. Join us Thursday at 4:30 for an NBC12 Special report including some of the first-hand dramatic stories of people devastated by the storm.

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