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Historic 1985 flood highlights need to prepare

Published: Sep. 1, 2020 at 5:45 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - A city under water: 35 years ago in November, Roanoke was submerged after heavy rains fell across the valley.

Now, leaders in Roanoke are urging families to prepare for the unexpected during this year’s Prepareathon.

“Iconic images and they are burned in my memory,” Tommy Firebaugh said.

Firebaugh captured the rising water in 1985 with his camera.

“I was just shooting at everything to make sure I covered it because I knew this would probably be a historical event,” Firebaugh said.

The remnants of Hurricane Juan dumped heavy rain over the Roanoke Valley, and after an already saturated season, it didn’t take long for the water to rise.

“It was an ugly sight, brown water, and it didn’t smell too good either,” Firebaugh said.

His film took these moments of fear as folks climbed out of the flooding or floated through Market Square and froze them in time.

“Lights were on everywhere all over the city. It was like Venice or somewhere, it was real eerie,” Firebaugh said.

Now the City of Roanoke wants to take moments like this and use it as a lesson.

“It’s so important to be prepared before disaster hits,” Roanoke Fire - EMS Risk Reduction Specialist Kristen Perdue said.

It’s National Preparedness Month and the city hopes to encourage families to think ahead.

“That’s what we like to push for is the preparedness. Having a plan, having a kit of some sort and being able to take care of yourself and your family,” Virginia Department of Emergency Management Disaster Response and Recovery Officer Jonathan Simmons said.

Firebaugh said following that advice can give you the upper hand in mother nature’s game.

“How are you going to get away from a flood situation? I mean like we got a lot of rain today and you get a little nervous,” Firebaugh said.

You can see Firebaugh’s photos on display in Downtown Roanoke’s Market Square Sept. 17 through Sept. 19 and again at the VA History Museum from Sept. 21 through Nov 21.

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