Drown-Town Galax: Floods hit historic district

-A A +A

By Shaina Stockton, Staff

This year’s second “Cruisin’ & Groovin” event in Galax was met with an unexpected and destructive twist, when yet another heavy downpour resulted in one of the worst floods that the city has seen in 50 years.
Over the past several weeks, citizens of the Twin Counties have come to expect rainy weather.
According to the National Weather Service, the area has already seen 600 percent of the average expected rainfall in July.


Past storms have resulted in many floods that caused structural damage to homes, businesses and roads. A handful of roads in Galax, Carroll County and Grayson County have been shut down to repair sinkholes and collapses that developed after the rainwater washed out soil under the pavement.
But nothing prepared anyone for the sudden downpour in the Galax downtown area on Friday. Just as the classic car cruise-in’s festivities began, so did the rain.
According to those who were in the area at the time, it only took minutes before the crowds were wading to the nearest shop for cover.
A few more minutes, and the streets were underwater.
Torrents of brown stormwater rushed down alleyways, especially on South Main Street.
“The rain just came down the street like a river,” said Carol Lowe of Carol’s Consignments. “We had some hail stones at the beginning, and I was worried about [the cars] here and wondering if they had any damage. [When the water levels rose], I was afraid that my car would wash away.”
Eventually, water came up to the doors and flooded many of the downtown businesses.
“When the water came in, we weren’t prepared. We didn’t know what to do,” Lowe told the Gazette. Her business flooded once, then again Friday evening. “We were prepared [the second time] with push brooms. My husband and one of my customers helped to keep [the water] out of the store,” she said.
Roy Truitt of Roy’s Diamond Center said that the water made it halfway into his shop on Friday. “It looked like the New River running down beside the store and across Main Street,” he said.
The water did some damage to the wooden floor, but he was happy to report that everything was cleaned up and back to normal conditions on Monday. “We worked late that Friday night, and we were here Saturday,” he said.
The cruise-in plowed forward with the scheduled events as the rain continued to fall, as evidenced by photos and videos taken during the flood.
Vendors stood ankle-deep at booths, people stayed to hear the band that continued to play and antique cars remained parked as rain slowly climbed up past many of their wheels.
For some, it was all they could do, as the water was too high to drive away.
Carroll County largely escaped this storm, after being devastated by heavy rains a week before.
This time, Grayson County was hit harder.
Flooding caused a portion of Virginia 94 to fall into Meadow Creek on Friday afternoon. The collapse occurred near the Carico Memorial Bridge over New River, on the Galax side of the bridge closer to U.S. 58.
On Monday, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced that routes 94 South and 665 North in Grayson County may be closed for the next month due to maintenance.
“A weekend slide on 94 closed the road between Virginia 634 (Grinders Mill Road) and Virginia 882 (Nuckolls Curve Road)," VDOT said in a news release. "Motorists can expect potential delays in this area through 2 p.m. July 31. The north and south through lanes are closed."
Drivers can use Virginia 94 and 274 to avoid the closure. Local traffic traveling from Fries to Galax can use routes 606 and 721 across the low-water bridge to Glendale Road.
Virginia 665 is closed for three to four weeks for culvert repairs. Detour signs are posted.
If it seemed that the rain was localized, it was.
“It seemed like the storm was isolated to the downtown area,” said Galax Police Capt. James Cox. “Traveling east, it started clearing up around Walmart. The NWS told me [the storm] ‘sat’ on downtown.”
Police Chief Rick Clark received reports of up to five inches of water on Friday. “At one point, we had six streets that were impassable,” he said.
He and Galax Fire Chief David Hankley both believed that it was the worst flooding they had seen in the area in 50 years.
Cox commented, “I have never seen that much water in such a short period!”
In addition to the downtown area, flood-prone areas such as Givens Street, Shaw Street and Meadow Street were also subjected to flooding.
MacArthur Street, near the flood-prone intersection at Swanson Street, was closed over the weekend when a sinkhole opened up.
Friday’s rain, along with other recent storms, has guaranteed many hours of clean-up and road repair for the city.
Galax Public Works Director Charlie Joyce was unavailable at press time for further information about the city’s accumulated damages.