Southwest Virginia flooding damages homes, prompts rescues

Associated Press

Whitewood, Va. – Flooding in a remote pocket of southwest Virginia has damaged more than 100 homes and left some 40 people unaccounted for, but there are no confirmed deaths or injuries, authorities said Wednesday.

First responders in Buchanan County began receiving reports of rising water and damage Tuesday night, authorities said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. After daybreak, crews conducted aerial surveys to examine the extent of the disaster. Several small communities in the Virginia county that borders West Virginia and Kentucky were impacted, according to the sheriff’s office.

About 40 people – a mix of adults and children – were reported unaccounted for, but that number was expected to decrease as swift-water rescue teams continued to survey the area, authorities said. A shelter was established at a local school.

Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Eric Breeding said the number of persons unaccounted for is based on relatives trying to contact a resident in an area where there may be limited or no phone service.

A truck sits on the edge over a river, Thursday, July 14, 2022 in Whitewood, Va., after being swept away in a flash flood.
A house that was moved off of its foundation following a flash flood rests on top of a vehicle, Thursday, July 14, 2022 in Whitewood, Va. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency to aid in the rescue and recovery efforts from Tuesday's floodwaters.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in trouble or in danger. They’re just letting us know that we need to check on these people,” Breeding told reporters.

An official from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management said accessing the remote area was part of the struggle for search-and-rescue teams. Many roadways are blocked by landslides and approaches to bridges are washed out, the official said.

“One of our neighbors’ driveways completely collapsed and fell down the mountain and fell down the creek,” Dominick Fragoso told TV station WCYB. “The roads, if you walk up there, they’re completely destroyed.”

Buchanan County also suffered serious flooding damage last year, when the remnants of a hurricane hit the area in August, washing away homes and leaving one person dead.

Debris builds up against a bridge, Thursday, July 14, 2022 in Whitewood, Va., following a flash flood.
Chairs and pews sink down in mud inside Baptist Bible Church, Thursday, July 14, 2022 in Whitewood, Va., following a flash flood.

This week’s flooding was less severe but more widespread, authorities said at the news conference.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency to aid with the response and recovery efforts.

“As we continue to assess the situation, I want to thank our first responders and the personnel on the ground for providing assistance with our ongoing operations in Buchanan County. While rescue and recovery continues, please join me in prayer as we lift up our fellow Virginians impacted by this tragedy,” Youngkin said in a statement.

Heavy thunderstorms also led to flash flooding Tuesday evening along the Little Pigeon River in eastern Tennessee that prompted the evacuation of more than 400 people from a campground. No injuries were reported in the Tennessee flooding, but vehicles and debris from the Greenbrier Campground were washed downstream by floodwaters, Sevier County Assistant Mayor Perrin Anderson told news outlets.