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

President Joe Biden on Friday approved a major disaster declaration for Buchanan and Tazewell counties, opening the door for federal money to help the region recover from flooding that destroyed dozens of homes in July.

The aid, which is overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is available to state and local governments and some nonprofits to help pay for emergency work and repairs of public infrastructure.

Friday’s designation, which was announced by FEMA in a news release, does not mean that individual property owners whose homes were damaged or destroyed are eligible for federal funding; FEMA must still make that determination.

Up to 6 inches of rain fell on parts of eastern Buchanan County and western Tazewell County in just a few hours on the night of July 12. A damage estimate completed in the days after the flood found that 33 structures had been destroyed and another 60 damaged, more than half of them severely. 

The flooding also damaged roads and knocked out power and water across the area. 

Southwest Virginia floods

Read all of Cardinal News’ coverage of flooding in Southwest Virginia here.

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both D-Virginia, and Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, praised Friday’s declaration. The three had earlier joined in asking Biden for the approval.

“We are pleased that the federal government has taken this crucial step to aid recovery efforts in Buchanan and Tazewell counties,” they said in a news release. “We will continue pushing for Individual Assistance and all resources needed to help residents rebuild following this devastating flooding.”

Almost a year earlier, a similar flash flood swept through the community of Hurley on the other side of Buchanan County. More than two dozen homes were destroyed and scores more were damaged; one person was killed. Biden approved a major disaster declaration for that flood, but FEMA denied the state’s request for financial help for individual property owners, saying that the damage was not severe enough to warrant such aid.

Megan Schnabel

Megan Schnabel is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at megan@cardinalnews.org.