Flash flooding late Wednesday night displaced 28 people, including a few children, from Sleepy Hollow Motel as two days of heavy rain overflowed the banks of Mountain Run next to the low-cost, long-term lodging facility along James Madison Highway in Culpeper.
“I was sleeping in the bed, heard the knocking, opened the door and water rushed in,” said motel guest Howard Lewis, standing in the motel lobby Thursday morning.
The remnants of Tropical Storm Eta contributed to serious flooding across the southeast and variable precipitation across this region, ranging from 5 to 7 inches the past two days.
The National Weather Service recorded more than six inches of rain at Culpeper County Airport Wednesday into Thursday. More than an inch of heavy rain was reported in the 10 p.m. hour Wednesday night when Sleepy Hollow flooded.
Sleepy Hollow Motel Manager Milin Patel said the flooding happened very quickly.
“We get a just a few minutes. Me and my brother knock on the door—please get out, we tell the people,” he said.
The entire back area of the family-run motel—24 rooms—took in six to eight inches of water. Items left behind in the subsequent rapid rescue lay scattered on mud-smeared floors the morning after, the bottoms of bedspreads dripping with dirty water.
Culpeper County and Brandy Station Volunteer fire departments, Culpeper Town Police and Culpeper County EMS assisted in the evacuation, according to Culpeper County Emergency Services Director Bill Ooten. The call for help came in at 11:05 p.m., activating the emergency operations center, he said.
“Water rescue operations began soon after on scene. Motel occupants were brought to safety by the on-scene fire department personnel,” Ooten said.
A county school bus responded to the motel to transport all of the displaced guests to another low-cost motel on the other side of town. Culpeper Human Services assisted with the emergency housing transition.
Lewis was back on scene Thursday morning to collect his stuff, including a new pair of water-logged work boots and bags of wet clothes. Carita Quarles came to give him a ride to the other hotel. She said her basement apartment in the White Shop area of Culpeper County also flooded overnight.
“My kid’s dog had a good time splashing it,” she said.
Quarles said her father brought in industrial fans from his business to dry out the basement.
“I will be ok,” she said. “Just trusting in God.”
Earlier this year, Sleepy Hollow renovated all 34 of its rooms, adding new flooring, TVs and microwaves and new bathroom fixtures, Patel said. The motel similarly flooded in 2012.
Multiple outdoor cameras have enhanced security at the site, he said. Sleepy Hollow houses many local poor and disadvantaged as well as homeless and ex-convicts, Patel said.
He was supposed to fly to his native India on Thursday to celebrate with family there for this weekend’s Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, as part of a long-planned trip. Patel’s older brother, Harry Gohil, of Florida had come to Culpeper to help run the motel in absence.
But the flooding event has cancelled the international trip.
“Because people need this place. I have to fix this place,” Patel said, adding, “It’s God’s disaster, natural disaster. We cannot blame anyone. We just find a place to accommodate everyone.”
He said FEMA and insurance adjustors would respond to assess the value of the damage. Patel had no idea when the rooms would be renovated again and reopen.
“We worry about our people,” he said. “We want them to come back.”
Culpeper Public Services Director Jim Hoy reported some five inches of rain in his rain gauge over the past two days.
Culpeper County Emergency Services received calls throughout the night Wednesday into Thursday reporting high water hazards. Local first responders were dispatched for several calls involving individuals trapped inside their vehicles in high water, according to Ooten. VDOT overnight shut down portions of portions of Stevensburg Road, Alanthus Road and Carrico Mills Road, he said.
Ooten said the Rapidan and Robinson River could potentially reach minor to moderate flood stage.
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