Home Buchanan County residents waiting for help to begin flood recovery: Good news may not be on the way

Buchanan County residents waiting for help to begin flood recovery: Good news may not be on the way

Chris Graham
buchanan county flooding
Photo courtesy Gladys Jennings.

Six weeks have passed since dozens of homes in Buchanan County were damaged or destroyed after a summer storm dumped six inches of rain, resulting in dramatic and devastating flooding, and residents are still waiting for help from the state and the federal government.

“It’s not being let known about all the people in the Pilgrims Knob, Whitewood and surrounding areas in Virginia that lost their homes, had severe damage and cannot get any help. We are all hurting badly here,” said Gladys Jennings, a Buchanan County resident whose home has been flooded four times since the July 12 storm because of damage from the original flood event to a nearby creek that has yet to be cleared.

buchanan county flooding
Photo courtesy Gladys Jennings.

Jennings reached out to a news reporter based four hours away in Augusta County in obvious frustration and desperation over the lack of information to local residents in Buchanan County about the next steps in the cleanup and restoration effort.

“The only grants we all received were from the county. The county was only authorized to give each of us $1,000. A lot of people here lost entire homes or had severe damage. We need help. We feel as though we are the forgotten,” Jennings said.

I’ve tried to reach out to Buchanan County government, but have not heard anything back from them, which is understandable, given everything else the folks there on the ground have to deal with.

buchanan county flooding
Photo courtesy Gladys Jennings.

I did get word back from a contact at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, who told me that preliminary damage assessments have been completed with FEMA, “and the data is being analyzed to determine if the state will meet the threshold for requesting federal assistance.”

Del. Will Morefield, whose House of Delegates district includes Buchanan County, told me that he was informed Wednesday that the damage assessment has been completed and will be submitted to the governor’s office on Friday.

According to VDEM, Gov. Glenn Youngkin then has until Sept. 11 to request a federal disaster declaration from President Biden.

Even then, there is no guarantee that any disaster declaration would include assistance for individual homeowners.

According to FEMA, there have only been three federal individual assistance declarations made in the past 20 years – two associated with hurricanes, the third with a 2011 earthquake.

“It’s just, it is not a fair process, where rural communities get the short end of the stick,” U.S. Sen. Mark Warner said on Monday on a visit of the damage in Buchanan County. “You could have had the exact same number of homes in a wealthier area, and that would have qualified for individual assistance. The law needs to change.”

An Individual Assistance declaration would give local homeowners access to Individual and Households Program funding, which would provide financial and direct services to eligible individuals and households with uninsured or under-insured necessary expenses and serious needs.

IHP assistance may include:

buchanan county flooding
Photo courtesy Gladys Jennings.

Funding is capped under the IHP program to $37,900 per household.

I’ve reached out to FEMA to try to get a sense of how long it might take for the process to play out here – basically, after the governor sends his request to the president, and the president approves the declaration, how long does it take for help to actually get to people?

I’ll update this story when I hear back on that.

I know from reaching out to Ninth District Congressman Morgan Griffith and U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner that those federal offices are on the job.

Griffith’s office offered me a statement.

buchanan county flood
Photo courtesy Gladys Jennings.

“At the federal level, FEMA is waiting on the initial disaster assessment to make its decisions about assistance,” Griffith said in the statement. “I am working with Sens. Warner and Kaine to make sure Buchanan County residents impacted by the floods get the federal help they need. Nonprofit and volunteer organizations on the ground are helping out, and I hope the federal government can complement their efforts.”

Kaine and Warner, according to their offices, are working behind the scenes to get FEMA to do more to assist with relief efforts in Buchanan County.

And Morefield, the local House of Delegates member, threw out one other possible avenue for homeowners, noting that the General Assembly, this past spring, appropriated $11.4 million to provide individual grant assistance for the floods victims in Hurley, which suffered flooding on Sept. 2, 2021, that damaged or destroyed 40 homes and led to one death.

buchanan county
Photo courtesy Gladys Jennings.

“That funding is limited to the flood victims of Hurley and is being administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. DHCD is currently establishing the program and we hope they will be announcing how flood victims can apply for assistance in the coming days ahead,” Morefield said.

The bad news there is, the reason the state needed to step in is because FEMA denied both a request and an appeal from the state to approve federal individual assistance to Hurley flood victims.

I wish I had better news for Gladys Jennings, who just bought her home in May, and is facing thousands of dollars in repairs without an obvious avenue for where to go to get help.

“There is no homeowners insurance to help. We are not in a ‘flood zone,’ so they won’t offer flood insurance. And we just bought our home in May, so we cannot get an equity loan yet,” Jennings said.

Her home was not a total loss, she said, but her heating system was damaged, and there is damage to the foundation of the home, and the creek next to her home is blocked with mud and trees, and that’s why her property floods every time it rains.

“Daily life is still very scary here. Our entire household goes into panic mode when it rains now because we know what’s likely happening. We will be once again flooded. Our fear is, how many times can this happen before we do lose our entire home?” Jennings said.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].