Roanoke emerged Friday morning back into the sun after three straight days of 2 inches or more in daily rainfall that saw dozens evacuated and the Roanoke River crest just shy of major flooding.
“Yesterday we experienced dangerous river flooding, and we saw the Roanoke River crest first at about 4:10 p.m.,” on Thursday, Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea said at an early Friday morning video news conference. “Responding to the flood was even more challenging because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The river in Roanoke reached 15.89 feet, short of a 16-foot major flooding designation. It was the 8th-highest crest on record.
Roanoke Fire-EMS made five swift water rescues in the last few days, Deputy Chief Billy Altman said. The latest happened about 10:18 p.m. Thursday, when crews found a partially submerged car in the 2100 block of Bennington Street Southeast. An occupant was taken to the hospital with injuries that were not deemed life-threatening.
In the early Friday morning update, Altman said first responders had finished up the Thursday evacuation of 116 people out of the Ramada Inn on Franklin Road after flood waters encroached on the site. Guests were taken to a couple of hotels on Peters Creek Road, he said.
The Ramada Inn was being used to house some people experiencing homelessness to provide a safe shelter amid the pandemic.
The National Weather Service in Blacksburg reported late Thursday that for the first time since record-keeping began in 1912, Roanoke saw three consecutive days, between Tuesday and Thursday, of at least 2 inches of rainfall.
Residents in multiple Roanoke neighborhoods who had been asked to evacuate while the threat of flooding loomed were able to return to their homes.
On Friday afternoon, as the region began drying out, the city said it evaluated conditions and concluded families were safe to return to the neighborhoods of Cravens Creek Road, Arbutus, Arbor and Piedmont.
All of the approximately 73 houses and buildings in residential areas that had been urged to evacuate amid the downpour Thursday were now deemed safe for return.
The Ramada Inn on Franklin Road remained closed Friday for cleanup, city officials said.
In the New River Valley, the New River reached its peak about 11 p.m. Thursday at 21.71 feet in Radford, above the 20-foot threshold there deemed major flooding. That marked the 6th highest crest since records began.
In Pulaski County, crews rescued two people from vehicles submerged in floodwaters Thursday afternoon.
A woman was stranded on the roof of a car in Fairlawn near Hazel Hollow Road and Falling Branch Road about 4:51 p.m., the Pulaski County Special Operations Team said on Facebook. A short time later, a team went to Parrot River Road and found a woman stuck inside a disabled vehicle that had become trapped.
No injuries were reported in either incident.
Ground soaked by the relentless rain created a road washout that is expected to keep part of Virginia 116 in Franklin County shut down for the next one to two months.
A collapsing slope caused the northbound side of Jubal Early Highway to start breaking apart early Friday, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The two-lane highway is now closed in both directions near Coopers Cove Road (Virginia 681) just south of the boundary line with Roanoke County.
That will remain in effect until repairs can be made. Adjacent roads can be used to detour around the damage.
The detour, for northbound traffic, will mean using Truman Hill Road (Virginia 678), Edwardsville Road (Virginia 635) and then Coopers Cove Road to reconnect to the highway.
The repair work needed is expected to be extensive. A contractor will begin by launching steel rods into the failed slope to start re-stabilizing it.
Once the slope is sound again, the roadbed will need to be reconstructed across both lanes. The collapse affected about 258 linear feet of roadway, officials said.
The Blue Ridge Parkway sustained major damage from heavy rains this week and will be closed near Roanoke for an unknown length of time.
A 150-foot stretch of the road collapsed at milepost 128 near the Masons Knob overlook. Also, two slope failures caused mud and debris to cover the road at the 119 and 124 mileposts.
The parkway is closed to traffic for 23.5 miles from Virginia 24 near Vinton to milepost 135.9 at Adney Gap. Within that segment, the road is closed to all users, which includes pedestrians and bicyclists, between U.S. 220 in Roanoke County to Adney Gap due to the heavy damage.
Explore Park will be inaccessible from its parkway entrance during this time. Visitors can use the park’s alternate entrance at 3900 Rutrough Road in the meantime.
A National Park Service statement said parkway workers are concerned about the instability of hillsides in that area.
“The National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration will assess the issues and determine what repairs are needed,” the statement read. “Geotechnical and roadway design experts will assess the roadway failures and make recommendations for repairs and restoration of access. The schedule for these repairs is currently unknown.”
In the aftermath of the flooding, Roanoke announced it was launching a hotline and an online portal that residents could use to report damage to homes and businesses. Damage reports can be made by calling 540-853-1529 or going online to www.arcg.is/5zPuj.
Information is available on the Parkway’s Real Time Road Map, found at www.nps.gov/maps/blri/road-closures.
Staff writers Ralph Berrier Jr. and Alicia Petska contributed to this report.