By Katie Demeria
FRONT ROYAL -- Flash floods struck Front Royal early Friday morning, damaging homes and vehicles, and now many residents are trying to deal with the aftermath.
Happy Creek rose several feet overnight and knocked down several trees near the Happy Creek Arboretum on Commerce Avenue. The bridge connecting Commerce and Prospect Street had to be closed.
Debbie and Mark Dokken drove in from Linden to see the high waters.
"It's a mess," Mark Dokken said. "There's definitely a lot of significant tree damage."
He said at around 7 a.m. Friday morning he measured 5.75 inches at his home. On Thursday, he said he recorded .5 inches falling in 10 minutes.
"It's remarkable, it was really so fast," Debbie Dokken said.
Teresa Mills lives feet away from the creek and knows that, though it was still high and moving quickly, it had gotten even higher overnight, at around 3:30 a.m.
She opened her car to see inches of muddy creek water pooled in the back seat, and debris tangled around the wheels.
The fence in Mills' backyard was completely destroyed, as was a great deal of her furniture, which she was trying to clean up.
"Doesn't seem like I can get anything done," she said. "But I prayed, and we're all alive. I'm just glad it wasn't something like a tornado."
Mills is especially worried because her 10-year-old granddaugther Jaylen has severe asthma, and mold will doubtlessly collect in the crawl space beneath the house.
"She's on Medicaid, and we're her guardians," Mills said. "I just don't want her to get anymore sick."
This is the second flood they have seen in the last three years, Mills said. The first took place in 2011 and caused damage as well, but this time, she said, it was a lot worse.
Tony and Janet Jewell had never had to deal with water in their home before, and they were hoping they would never have to.
Tony Jewell woke around 3:30 a.m. when he heard the sound of running water. He went to his basement and saw that water had pushed open his back door.
He went upstairs to get Janet Jewell, and they returned to find that the water had already risen by about a foot.
"I was wading in it," Janet Jewell said.
When the Jewells purchased their home 10 years ago, they were told they did not need flood insurance, even though they live about 70 yards from Leach Run -- it was supposed to be a no-flood area.
A few years later, the bridge in front of their home was repaired, and Tony Jewell was told a flood gate was installed. He said he saw someone go to the bridge at around 5 a.m. Friday morning, and that within 20 minutes the water had receded, suggesting that the gate had been closed before someone opened it due to the flood.
But neither town officials nor the Virginia Department of Transportation were able to confirm that a flood gate had actually been installed in the bridge.
"I was told the gate was designed to stop the creek from overflowing, and that they had to put it in," Tony Jewell said. "We were within moments of leaving the house when [the water] went down."
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org