The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) Region 4 team and response partners received the Response Program of the Year award at the 2023 Virginia Emergency Management Symposium (VEMS).
The Response Program of the Year award recognizes a program that has shown excellence in responding to an emergency or disaster situation. The recipient of this award has displayed “outstanding, timely, effective response to an affected area and its citizens or victims,” according to the Virginia Emergency Management Association (VEMA), which hosts VEMS and distributes awards annually.
On the evening of July 12, 2022, into the early morning hours of July 13, 2022, torrential rain fell across the mountainous terrain of Buchanan and Tazewell Counties in southwest Virginia. Rainfall amounts of 4-6 inches were estimated in the span of a few hours. These high rainfall rates, combined with the local topography, resulted in life-threatening flash flooding that washed away homes, roads, and bridges. Businesses were also damaged, as well as water and power transmission lines. There was a lot to clean up and rebuild once the floodwaters receded. The preliminary damage assessment of Buchanan County found that 37 homes were destroyed, and another 54 properties had significant damage. Buchanan County responded initially to the incident, calling for additional resources almost instantly.
A Local and State Emergency was declared and staff from VDEM Region 4, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Bristol District, and Virginia State Police (VSP) Division 4 were on scene within an hour supporting the incident command that had been established. Additionally, Bedford, Bristol, Lynchburg, Roanoke Valley, and VSP Swift Water Rescue Teams were all dispatched. The SW Virginia Communications Cache and the SW Virginia Incident Management Team also deployed in support of the incident. District and Regional Health Department staff deployed to perform tetanus shots and work the shelter. DEQ supported the massive debris cleanup. Many volunteer agencies from across the Southwest region deployed to support the response and initial recovery.
All in all, there were zero fatalities and only two injuries reported from the incident and while those residents are still recovering from the incident, the commonwealth should be proud for how well the response organizations of Buchanan County, southwest Virginia, and the entire commonwealth worked together to ensure that every resident survived yet another catastrophic flood in Buchanan County.