Stephanie Stiltner's home in Hurley was damaged but is being rebuilt, unlike several nearby houses. “We have issues here, but my neighbors' houses aren't even standing," she said. "To walk back off that hill and see nothing where stuff had been all your life, it is just -- I don't even have a word for it. Devastating is the best word I’ve got." Photo by Lakin Keene.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has once again turned down a request for aid for people in the Buchanan County community of Hurley whose homes were damaged or destroyed in an August flood and mudslide.

More than 7 inches of rain fell on parts of the community of Hurley on Aug. 30, destroying dozens of homes and damaging many others. One person died.

Map by Robert Lunsford

FEMA turned down Virginia’s request for individual aid, telling then-Gov. Ralph Northam that the damage “was not of such severity and magnitude” to warrant the assistance. 

The state appealed that denial, and Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, and U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, D-Virginia, joined in a letter to President Biden for help. ““To ensure a fulsome recovery for this community, we urge your full and fair consideration of Virginia’s appeal for Individual Assistance for our constituents in and around Hurley,” they wrote in early December.

The legislators announced today that FEMA has once again rejected the request. “After thorough review of all the information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that the impact to the individuals and households from this event was not of such severity and magnitude to warrant the designation of the Individual Assistance program,” wrote FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell. “Therefore, your appeal for Individual Assistance is denied.”

Griffith issued a statement blasting FEMA’s decision: “FEMA’s decision indicates that the agency is out of touch with the suffering experienced by the people of Hurley. The community continues to suffer from the impact of last August’s devastating flooding. Homes were washed away, and property destroyed. It will take considerable time and effort to recover, but FEMA’s decision sets back that process.

“I will continue to look for ways in which the Federal Government can assist this beleaguered community.”

Warner tweeted that “I’m extremely disappointed in FEMA’s decision to deny Individual Assistance to the Hurley community. I will continue to explore ways my office can help the citizens of Buchanan County recover from this natural disaster and mitigate the impact of future significant weather events.”

In an interview with Cardinal News in December, Kaine said it’s not uncommon in his experience to see FEMA grant a major disaster declaration, which opens up assistance for local governments, but not provide individual assistance. 

He said then such decisions are probably based on either the agency’s assessment of the amounts of individual damage or the number of people who were affected. “But just because it’s not widespread affecting tens of thousands of people doesn’t mean it is not catastrophic for a smaller group of people,” Kaine said in December.

In response to FEMA’s initial denial of aid, Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell County, introduced a bill in the General Assembly to create a state flood relief fund that could aid Hurley. That bill now awaits action in a House committee in Richmond.