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VA floods destroy homes

Floods destroyed 40 homes and severely damaged more in southwest Virginia.

BY HEATHER MOYER | RICHLANDS, Va. | May 26, 2004


"It's very concentrated damage in about a six to eight mile strip."

—Sandy Etter


Heavy rains and flash floods destroyed 40 homes and severely damaged another 75 in southwest Virginia's Tazewell County on Monday. Neighboring Russell County also suffered damages to over 125 homes.

Tazewell County Emergency Services Coordinator Sandy Etter said while most of the water has receded, the big worry now is mudslides. "We've had eight to ten slides hit homes so far, and we're recommending some folks leave because of that threat," he said.

According to Bob Spieldenner, spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the two counties received over four inches of rain in two hours. He added that numerous state agencies are in Russell and Tazewell Counties to assist in flood response.

"The State Police are in town each night, the highway department is helping deal with mudslides on the roads, the Department of Environmental Quality is helping because of the affected home propane tanks, and the Department of Health is assisting with the contaminated well water," said Spieldenner. Virginia Governor Mark Warner has already declared a state of emergency in both counties.

The Salvation Army and American Red Cross are helping people clean up, and local hotels are serving as evacuation shelters.

Etter said his agency is busy setting up an emergency operations center in the city of Richlands, where most of the damages are centered. "It's very concentrated damage in about a six to eight mile strip," he explained.

The region is no stranger to floods, either. The counties have received six declarations of emergency in the past three years, said Etter. "And we'll be hoping for another one this time."

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials will arrive Thursday to start doing more damage assessments. The region will need help, said Etter, because not many people have insurance.

"This is a low income area, it's economically depressed," he said.

And with this being another serious flood added to the string of flash floods in such a short period of time, people are shaken. "The community is working together, but they're upset," said Etter. "And every time we have a flood, we swear it's the worst one - and I think this one is the worst."

Richlands' resident Melissa Lowe agreed. "It sure looks like the worst I've seen in years, and I've lived in Richlands all my life," said Lowe, who serves as secretary for the First United Methodist Church in Richlands. "It looks like a war zone - so many mudslides, cars flipped over, trailers off their foundations. I feel so sorry for everyone."

Lowe's home escaped serious damage, but water still sat in their basement this morning. Today is also the first day she'd been able to leave her home, as the flash floods washed out the road.

She said the damage she saw on her way to the church this morning was unbelievable. "This one church just broke my heart because they had their front doors open and their furniture spread all over the lawn," said Lowe. "You could just see all the mud inside. They had pressure-washers in the church to clean it out."

The First United Methodist Church has helped with flood relief in Richlands in the past. Lowe said she's not heard of their response plans yet for this flood, but she knows it will be discussed soon. She added that the city also has a productive ministerial alliance that most likely will step in as well.

In any case, is much work to be done. "The state's going to have a lot of work to do with all these mudslides," said Lowe. "There's a lot of cleanup to do."


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