An aerial photo of the flooding. in Buchanan County Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

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Officials are saying that about 44 people are missing after a devastating flooding in Buchanan County early Wednesday. “At this time, we have no confirmed fatalities,” Eric Breeding, chief deputy with the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office told reporters in a news conference in the afternoon.

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The concentration of the flooding is in the Dismal River Road area that encompasses Dismal River, Patterson, Hale Creek, Pilgrims Knob, Whitewood and Jewell Valley Area. Roads in these areas are closed to everyone except rescue personnel, Breeding said, adding that  initial assessments of the area revealed substantial damage to these areas. A total of 18 search and rescue organizations – some from as far away as Lynchburg – are currently assisting in the search for those who went missing.

Initial reports from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management indicated more than 100 homes were damaged or destroyed during the flooding.

The severe weather began hitting parts of the Southwest region on Tuesday evening and continued into the early morning hours of Wednesday. Heavy rainfall caused flash flooding in Buchanan County, along with power outages, impacts to roads and other infrastructure, and significant resource and operational challenges.

“It’s just sad, I’ve never seen anything this devastating here,” said state Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell County, who made his way to the worst hit areas early Wednesday morning to help. “When we got to Whitewood, we saw multiple homes that were completely destroyed, one home was sitting in the middle of the road,” Hackworth said in a phone interview. “When you drive down the road, there’s a six-inch water line that’s exposed, electric lines that are down, broken, and decimated, sewer that is broken.”

Many people in the area who are still in their homes are without electricity, water and phone connections, Hackworth said. “Most won’t leave, they are afraid to leave their home, that’s all they got. We are trying to get them generators, and food, so they can survive.”

Anyone trying locate a loved one who is missing as a part of this flooding event may go to the Reunification Center at Twin Valley Elementary/Middle School at 9017 Riverside Drive, Oakwood. This school is also serving as an emergency shelter.

Shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency today to assist with response and recovery efforts. “We are deeply saddened to learn that another flood has impacted a community still recovering from last year’s flood,” Youngkin said in a statement. “In the wake of the devastation, I want Virginians in Buchanan County to know that we are making every resource available to help those impacted by this storm.”

Wednesday marks the second time within one year that the county was hit hard by severe flooding. Last August, flooding, mudslides and rockslides triggered by a downpour wiped out dozens of homes in the Guesses Fork section of Hurley, washing many others downstream. One person was killed during the disaster.

But this time, the destruction might be even worse, said Hackworth. “This is more widespread and it’s longer, I expect there to be a lot more damage. The roads, I can’t even describe them,” he said. Hackworth added that he has asked the Youngkin administration to activate the National Guard to assist with distributing drinking water and “to get the looters out” that he expects to scavenge the area. “If you don’t have any business over there, you don’t need to come over there,” he said.  

How to help

Anyone wishing to donate to the Buchanan County 2022 Disaster Fund may do so at https://unitedwayswva.charityproud.org/Donate/Index/19717 or by calling Cristie Lester at 276.525.4071.

Among the many community organizations that are already present in the area is United Way of Southwest Virginia (UWSWVA), which has begun working with community partners to provide both short- and long-term assistance to families affected by the flooding.

“American Electric Power has donated a significant sum to allow us to purchase flashlights, lanterns, coolers and other necessities for those without power,” said Travis Staton, UWSWVA president and CEO. 

Southwest Virginia is blessed with individuals and organizations that step up in times like this, Staton said. “Even before we could call Food City, for instance, they already had a truck full of bottled water on the way. Southwest Virginians take care of Southwest Virginians.” 

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said that he is committed to helping the people affected in Buchanan to recover. “My office and I have been monitoring the aftermath of this disaster. While in Washington for votes, I have spoken with Governor Youngkin about the situation, and I have staff at the scene,” Griffith said in an email.

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, D-Va., also weighed in on the event. 

“I’m heartbroken for the families in Buchanan County who have lost their homes, as well as for members of the community who are once again grappling with the destruction left behind by devastating flooding,” Warner said, urging any Virginian in need of immediate assistance to contact the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Kaine said that his heart goes out to every Virginian affected by Wednesday’s catastrophic flooding in Buchanan County. “This spring, I met with families who were still grappling with the aftermath of last year’s flooding in Hurley, and saw up close the need to support the road to recovery,” Kaine said. “I’m going to do everything I can to be a strong partner to local officials and impacted Virginians to make that road as smooth as possible.”

This is a breaking news story. It will continue to be updated as more information becomes available. If you’re in the flood zone and have photos or information to share, you can do so at news@cardinalnews.org.

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.