Home FEMA, for some reason, doesn’t want to help people who lose everything in floods

FEMA, for some reason, doesn’t want to help people who lose everything in floods

Chris Graham
Photo courtesy Gladys Jennings.

We talked this week with a Buchanan County resident who doesn’t qualify for flood insurance because she doesn’t live in a flood zone, and likely won’t be able to get federal assistance to repair damage to her home from a July flood.

Something about this doesn’t add up.

“We are all hurting badly here,” said Gladys Jennings, who to this point has only been able to get $1,000 in local assistance, which she made clear she is thankful for, but that amount is a drop in the bucket for what it will take to get her anywhere close to whole.

Her home has flooded four more times since the July 12 flood, she said, because trees and other debris from that event haven’t been cleared from a nearby creek, which jumps its banks 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.

She reached out to me, a reporter based four hours away, pretty much out of desperation, to see if I could find out anything about the help that she and her neighbors hope is on the way.

I wish I had good news for her, but I don’t.

FEMA has only approved individual assistance for people caught up in natural disasters three times in the past 20 years – twice after hurricanes, the other time after a 2011 earthquake.

There was another Buchanan County flood, in Hurley last September, that state officials sought individual assistance for, twice.

Both requests were denied by FEMA.

“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.”

Del. Will Morefield, whose House district represents Buchanan County in the General Asssembly, was able to push through $11.4 million in relief for individuals who suffered damage in the 2021 Hurley flood.

And while that’s at least something, the flood was a year ago, and the money is still sitting in an account, waiting for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to get it out to people.

This is likely going to be the lay of the land for the next 12 months for Gladys Jennings and her neighbors.

Who, again, can’t get flood insurance, because they don’t live in a flood zone, though they do.

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.

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].