Hurricane Isabel damage photos, video and chase log from Richmond and Central Virginia

By Bill Hark

Last updated January 7, 2007

Video of falling tree during Hurricane Isabel: (right click on link, then "save as" to your computer.
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Video: Hurricane Isabel Chase and Damage Survey on YouTube (9 min 47 sec)

Hurricane Isabel video stills and chase report

Interstate 95 south of Richmond

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Hurricane Isabel was forecasted to strike the Outer Banks of North Carolina and then turn northward through central Virginia. With conditions in Richmond expected to deteriorate, my office closed at noon though I wasn't able to leave until later. This gave me the opportunity to chase Isabel. I gathered my equipment for the chase. Since Richmond would in an area of possibly hurricane force winds, I also did some last minute preparations of my house. I targeted the northern eye that would soon be near the Virginia/North Carolina Border. I wanted to experience the maximal winds during daylight. By 3PM, the Richmond was experiencing gusty winds and intermittent rain from the outer rain bands. I did some initial damage surveys around Richmond. There were already some fallen trees. I left Richmond at 4PM and headed south on I-95. The interstate was empty except for an occasional truck. The episodes of rain and wind increased in intensity. Power was already out along the interstate. By 5:30, I stopped near Stony Creek to observe the stronger squalls. I watched a grove of trees blasted with wind and rain. Leaves and debris flew across the adjacent road. I measured a gust of 39MPH; however there were many higher ones. While filming the trees, a severe gust blasted the area and a tree fell across the road breaking into a couple of pieces. Clouds swirled overhead. I continued south on I- 95. I passed a couple of trees that had fallen into the road. I reached Emporia at 6:15PM. The streets were empty and there was no electricity. I got more video of trees buffeted by wind and rain. I crossed the border into North Carolina and pulled over at the first exit. After watching the storm, I decided to turn back. Night was approaching and I was concerned about the interstate being blocked by fallen trees. Visibility was dropping. Since the winds were from the east, trees and debris were blown mainly into the northbound lane of I-95. I passed multiple fallen trees, many into the right lane of I- 95. I was near Emporia, Virginia by 7:15PM. At 7:40, I came upon several trucks and cars stopped on the interstate. The path was blocked by two fallen trees. After about 30 minutes, the trees were moved by one of the truckers. I went about a quarter mile north and traffic again stopped. The way was blocked by larger trees. They were too big to be moved by hand. The truckers tried without success to move the trees with a chain attached to a truck and then by hand. Eventually, a tree was cleared out of a interstate crossover, and I managed to back up and head south at 9:00PM. At the next exit, I bypassed I-95 on 301 and drove north. I passed the blockage on I-95. Eventually, Route 301 was blocked. I got back on I-95 and traveled north. I slowly picked my way around downed trees. Eventually, there was another tree completely blocking I-95. I drove south in the northbound lane to the next crossover and then headed south on I-95. I tried the next couple of exits north of Stony Creek. I hoped for an alternate route north but all roads were blocked by trees. I figured the interstate would be the first road cleared and I got back on I-95 and headed north. I stopped in a traffic jam north of exit 41 and a few miles south of Petersburg. It was 10:43PM. As far as I could see, there were cars and trucks parked in the northbound lane. I waited and waited. Nobody had any idea how far north the next blockage was or how long until the road would be cleared. I was worried about my house and I imagined it crushed under a fallen tree. There were reports of widespread damage in Richmond including my neighborhood.

At 2:30AM, the police came by in the southbound lane with lights and sirens. The yelled with loudspeakers for everyone to "wake up!" Many people had fallen asleep while waiting in the traffic jam. I started moving again at 3:00AM. Progress was slow as there were more fallen trees partially blocking I-95. The road was green with leaves. I could see the lights of the Richmond office buildings by 3:30AM. The city appeared normal from a distance. As got closer, I realized these were the only lights. Everything else was dark. I plotted a way into the city to decrease the chance of encountering a police car. There was a curfew until 6AM and they would escort violators to a shelter and later arrest them. I avoided the police but the route was difficult as most roads were blocked by trees. The streets were empty, eerie and dark. There were still gusty winds and the occasional crack from a falling tree. I arrived at my house at 4AM. I had no damage but three large old trees had fallen across the street from my house. There was no water or electricity but it was nice to be home. After my experience with Isabel, I will think twice about going out to photograph future hurricanes.

Hurricane Isabel damage photos in the city of Richmond

Richmond, Virginia was extensively damaged by Hurricane Isabel. Trees were knocked down across the city and surrounding area. Many houses and cars were damaged. Most people were without power and many had no water or telephone. Travel was difficult since downed trees blocked a lot of roads. Other roads were impassable due to flooding. Damage was widespread across Virginia and North Carolina. Over 20 people died in Virginia. Even a week later, power was still out for over 400,000 people and schools were still closed.

I consider myself very lucky as my house sustained no damage from falling trees or flooding. There were at least one or two fallen trees on each block in many neighborhoods surrounding my house. My basement did flood five days later as a morning tornadic supercell passed over Richmond causing flash flooding, damaging houses and knocking down more trees.

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All images are copyright 2003 by William T. Hark, M.D.