lood damage in the Pilgrim's Knob section of Buchanan County. Photo by Lakin Keene.
Flood damage in the Pilgrim's Knob section of Buchanan County. Photo by Lakin Keene.

Southwest Virginia’s congressional delegation on Monday lent their support to a state request for federal aid to help pay for recovery efforts after a July flash flood destroyed scores of homes  in Buchanan and Tazewell counties.

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both D-Virginia, and Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, asked President Joe Biden to approve the state’s request for a major disaster declaration for the region, which would unlock federal aid. The letter to Biden specifically requested individual and public assistance for Buchanan County, public assistance for Tazewell County and hazard mitigation assistance for the state.

The region was devastated by torrential rain and flooding on July 13, when up to 7 inches of rain fell in just a few hours. A preliminary damage assessment found that 37 homes were destroyed and another 54 damaged. While most of the damage was centered in eastern Buchanan County, an area just over the Tazewell County line also was affected.

The storm came less than a year after a similar flash flood decimated the community of Hurley, on the other side of Buchanan County. High water and mudslides destroyed 31 homes and damaged dozens more; the recovery there is still underway. While federal money was provided to help pay for infrastructure repairs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied assistance to individual property owners in Hurley, saying that the magnitude of the damage was insufficient to warrant such help. The state – with support from the congressional delegation – appealed the denial, but FEMA turned down the request a second time in January.

Warner, Kaine and Griffith referenced the Hurley flood in their letter to Biden.

“Our constituents in Buchanan County are still grappling with the aftermath of this devastating storm event, which resulted in a Major Disaster Declaration, and are now forced to respond to this debilitating storm event,” they wrote. “Many residents in Buchanan County remain displaced from last year’s extreme rainfall event and are already facing another uprooting of their lives. The impact of these two natural disasters within a calendar year has severely stressed the resources and capabilities of the Commonwealth of Virginia and Buchanan County. We hope you consider this cumulative impact on this community as you review the Commonwealth’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration.”

Meanwhile, Hurley residents are still waiting to learn how and when they can apply for some of the $11.4 million that was earmarked for flood recovery in this year’s state budget. The fund will be managed by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, which has been working to determine how the money will be disbursed.

Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell County, who spearheaded the effort to set aside state money for Hurley’s recovery, said in an email update this week that efforts to get the money to residents have been delayed by the fact that the state budget wasn’t signed until June, following several months of General Assembly wrangling.

“We are doing everything that we possibly can to expedite this process,” he wrote. “The flood victims of Hurley can absolutely be assured that help is on the way but I fully understand the wait can be frustrating. I have asked DHCD to issue a press release as soon as they can to provide further details of the Hurley program.”

Read more of Cardinal News’ coverage of flooding in Southwest Virginia:

Cardinal News visited Hurley in the aftermath of last year’s flood and again a year later as rebuilding continued.

Read coverage of the most recent flood here and here, and about ongoing recovery efforts here. Read more about Virginia’s patchwork of flood recovery and mitigation programs here.

Megan Schnabel is managing editor for Cardinal News. Reach her at megan@cardinalnews.org or 540-819-4969.