Flood victims fear Buchanan County won’t qualify for federal relief

FEMA says most flooding events do not rise to the level of federal support
Emergency agencies are still surveying the damage from Tuesday’s flood that ravaged Buchanan County destroying homes and businesses.
Published: Jul. 18, 2022 at 7:36 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 18, 2022 at 7:43 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Emergency agencies are still surveying the damage from Tuesday’s flood that ravaged Buchanan County, destroying homes and businesses.

Once those assessments are done, the governor can apply for federal help, but some in southwest Virginia fear homeowners and small businesses might be left to fend for themselves.

“When your kids come up to you and say, Mommy, I want to go home, I say ‘I do too, but we can’t,’” said an emotional Rachel Stanley after losing her vehicles and home to the floods.

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine assured residents in the southwest that they would do everything in their power to ensure that the victims of this latest flood wouldn’t be left behind.

“My prayers are with those who have lost in this devastating flood, and we’re going to do everything we can just as we did last year to make sure there is relief,” Kaine said.

Sen. Warner also affirmed that residents affected in Buchanan County would receive aid.

“To the folks in southwest Virginia in Buchanan County, we’re going to get you that aid you deserve; this is a tragedy,” said Warner.

But according to United Way of Southwest Virginia President Travis Staton, The federal dollars needed to address the worst of the devastation might be hard to come by.

“I don’t know if it’s because of the number of households versus a more densely populated area, we don’t know that formula, but I think sometimes often rural communities are left at a disadvantage because of the sheer number of residents and how widespread the population is,” Staton said.

A representative from FEMA says most flooding events do not rise to the level of federal support. However, the Buchanan County government received nearly $1.3 million following last year’s once-in-200-year flood, which impacted Hurley, Virginia.

That assistance was made possible through the Public Assistance Program, which provides supplemental grants to state, tribal, territorial and local governments and certain types of private non-profits so communities can quickly respond to and recover from major disasters or emergencies.

Despite this, individual residents and businesses did not.

“The individual assistance program that looks particularly at the residents, individual homeowners, that assistance was denied, appealed and then denied again,” Staton said.

“In terms of the recent flooding, it would be premature to address, as local and state assessments are still ongoing,” said Region 3 FEMA spokesperson Nicholas Morici.

After his visit to southwest Virginia, Governor Youngkin said he also wants to introduce state programs to address these disasters before they happen.

“We’re going to get the right response from the president and FEMA,” Youngkin said. “One of the things we can do is prepare a flood fund that would provide resources ready and available in order to support families.”

Much of the governor’s plan still hinges on completing the damage assessments, which will need to be performed by the local government, The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), FEMA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) to determine the uninsured personal property losses. Staton estimates these losses could be in the $40-50 million range.

“The decision-making and the timing of those resources often hinder an individual’s recovery plan and the timing of that plan,” Staton said.

According to a press release, VDEM county personnel conducted Initial Damage Assessments throughout the affected areas of Buchanan County, which identified 33 destroyed properties, 32 listed as having significant damage, 28 with minor damage and 36 additional affected structures.

This count does not include damages to public infrastructure, which has a separate federal declaration process. VDEM says that this process is the first step in helping the governor determine whether the scope of the damages could meet the criteria for requesting federal assistance through the Individual Assistance Program.

So far, United Way has raised over $100,000 in private donations from across the state. Food City, headquartered in southwest Virginia, has also raised an additional $35,000 for local relief efforts by requesting donations during checkout.

If you want to support relief efforts in Buchanan, you can do so HERE.

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