Remembering the destruction of Hurricane Gaston 18 years later

Eighteen years ago on Aug. 30, the remnants of Hurricane Gaston stalled out over the Richmond area in 2004, killing nine people and causing $130 million in dama
Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 1:37 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Eighteen years ago on Aug. 30, the remnants of Hurricane Gaston stalled out over the Richmond area in 2004, killing nine people and causing $130 million in damage.

Shockoe Bottom was basically swallowed up when the city’s drainage system became overwhelmed by nearly a foot of rain.

Within less than an hour on a Monday evening in 2004, flood waters began to rage through the city, pooling in Shockoe Bottom and trapping thousands of people where ever they were.

“We didn’t expect that in our wildest dreams that it could do what it did,” Bottoms Up Pizza owner Dirk Graham said.

Graham painted a reminder on the wall, showing how high the water rose inside his restaurant.

“It’s 6-foot-2, and there’s another three-foot step up to get in here,” Graham said. “...in less than 15 minutes, this entire kitchen was nearly submerged in flood water.”

In the meantime, nearly two dozen employees and customers ran upstairs to the second-floor deck.

“The water outside was already at my eye level,” Bottoms Up Pizza manager Charlie Lichter said.

Lichter then ensured everyone in the building was safe and found one employee crying upstairs.

“He was almost inconsolable because he wasn’t going to be next to his daughter. That’s when I realized I was in charge of almost two dozen people’s lives,” Lichter said.

Fire crews rescued the group from the deck in rafts.

The damage left to one of Shockoe Bottom’s most recognizable restaurants was more than $1.5 million.

“It was a disaster. Everything was torn to pieces,” Graham said.

Bottoms Up rebuilt from the ground up, and it was just two years ago that Graham paid off a million-dollar FEMA loan.

The restaurant owner was certain that he could rise above the destructive flood waters.

“Everybody thought that was going to be it for Bottoms Up, but I felt confident in our brand and who we are as a city. We’re Richmond to the bone. We came back and have been successful ever since,” Graham said.

While some businesses never recovered, giving up was never an option for Tommy Goulding of Rosie Connelly’s.

Early on, during that day in August of 2004, Tommy went to move his car, suspecting high water would come but he had no idea just how bad it would be.

“I drove around the corner and the police were moving everybody out. And that was it. I didn’t see the place no more until I seen it on Channel 12 - got home, it was on the news - and it was up over the door,” Tommy explained 10 years ago after the strom.

Bod Steidel, Richmond’s former director of Utilities, said in 2017 that it’s possible the flooding could happen again if an unprecedented rainfall hit the city.

After Gaston, the city installed dozens of new drains to help get rainwater out of Shockoe Bottom whenever heavy rain hits.

The National Weather Service says the storm spawned 19 tornadoes.