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More than a decade after Gaston, restaurateur is still paying off FEMA loan

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RICHMOND, Va. -- As the threat of possible flooding in Central Virginia was on the minds of many, one restaurateur was keeping a close watch on Shockoe Bottom since Tropical Storm Gaston wreaked havoc on his restaurant 11 years ago.

"Anytime a big event like this comes around, I immediately think back to Gaston,” said Dirk Graham, who owns Bottoms Up Pizza. "The water was over my head."

Graham watched as his business went underwater.

"Everything was destroyed. We had decks that were lifted 15 feet in the air,” Graham explained.

Dirk Graham

Dirk Graham

Graham said the severe flooding to his downtown restaurant cost him millions.

"It took us a year to reopen the doors again,” Graham said.

Graham had flood insurance, but not enough to cover the extensive damage, so he reached out to FEMA for help.

"There's no free money from the government,” Graham said.

Bottoms Up Pizza

Bottoms Up Pizza Kitchen

Graham had to qualify for a low interest loan and waited four months to get the money. That was 11 years ago.

"I'm still paying on it. I've got roughly four years left on that,” Graham said.

WTVR CBS 6 reached out to FEMA for information on federal assistance in a natural disaster.

A spokesman said the disaster recovery program differs for homeowners and businesses. It all depends on the circumstances, but you must apply and be approved before it is a done deal.

Shockoe Bottom

Shockoe Bottom

Additionally, here’s a brief overview of the sequence of delivery, the disaster declaration process, and FEMA’s disaster programs. Note that this information on how the programs currently operate, there have been some minor changes in the programs over the years, but the basic purpose and program policies have remained roughly the same.

As for Graham, he advises any Bottom business owner to have enough flood insurance to cover an unexpected weather event.

"I always thought I would come back, but I didn't know or realize how expensive it would be or how long it would take,” Graham said.