As the post-flood relief efforts for the Hurley, Va., community transition from emergency assistance to long-term rebuilding, the Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) has begun its work. Members of the group, which held its first meeting Oct. 7 in Grundy, are:
Bob Anderson, Buchanan County Public Service Authority
Jim Baldwin, Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission
Buckey Blankenship, Harmon Memorial Baptist Church
Brandee Brown, YMCA
Tommy Casteel, United Way of Southwest Virginia Board Member
Bart Chambers, Buchanan County building official/emergency management coordinator
Jeff Mansour, Thompson Charitable Foundation
Debie Milton, Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission
Bob Reece, former president and CEO of the Grundy National Bank
Jon Rife, owner of Rife TV
Travis Staton, president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Virginia
Marci Watson, director of Buchanan County Department of Social Services
The group will coordinate with state officials and volunteer groups to assist Hurley residents in paying for repairs to owner-occupied homes damaged in the Aug. 30 flood.
The United Way of Southwest Virginia has agreed to serve as fiscal agent for the LTRG. To date, just under $201,000 has been raised for the Hurley, Virginia Relief Fund. Slightly over $12,000 of that has already been spent on emergency relief efforts, and fund-raising continues. “We would like to more than double what we currently have in the fund to help the citizens of Hurley rebuild,” said Travis Staton, United Way of Southwest Virginia president and CEO. “We would like to get $400,000 to $500,000.”
Marci Watson, director of Social Services for Buchanan County, is in charge of case management. She told the LTRG that 76 homes in the area have been listed as having minor damage, major damage or having been destroyed. Of those, 52 owners have come forward seeking assistance. Deadline for applications is Oct. 29, 2021.
Bart Chambers, emergency management coordinator and county building official for Buchanan County is handling construction cost assessment for the LTRG. He and his team have already begun assessing damage at individual properties. One complicating factor, Chambers told the LTRG is the fact that some homes were only accessible from the road via bridges on private property, which neither the state nor the federal government will rebuild, and are expensive for homeowners to replace. Another is the fact that the stream bed has moved since many of the homes were built, meaning those sites may no longer be within code to rebuild on.
The LTRG will likely make its first dispersals to cover repairs on homes that are accessible without bridges and are confirmed as being within code to rebuild on. Cash dispersals will not be made directly to homeowners, Staton said. “We are assessing damage, and in each case we will talk with the homeowner and say, ‘we can cover this much for flooring and this much for drywall,’ for instance. Then we would ask if they have a preference where the materials come from – Lowe’s, Vansant Lumber, wherever – and use those funds to purchase those materials.”
Staton said outside volunteer groups, including several from faith-based organizations, have already contacted the LTRG about spending two to eight weeks at a time installing those materials, clearing debris and doing other manual labor. “We need to make sure those folks have places to stay when they come here,” Staton said, “and we need to make sure everything is coordinated so if we have someone with expertise in hanging drywall come in, we can have the materials they need at the homes when they arrive.”
“We’re trying to stretch every dollar,” Staton said, “and that means we have to be efficient.”
Following the meeting, the LTRG published a list of greatest current needs. Those include warehouse space for building materials, furniture and large appliances; a forklift; personnel assistance including a coordinator of volunteers and a warehouse manager and funders willing to offer challenge grants.
The case management team and construction assessment workers are meeting with Hurley residents on a daily basis. The full LTRG will meet once more in October, then once in November and once in December, Staton said. Meetings are not open to the public because, “as we get into the cases, we’re having conversations that include individual families’ personal information – their income, their insurance status – that’s not something that should be discussed in a public setting.”
All cumulative financial information will be shared with the public after every meeting, Staton said, so there will be transparency regarding where every dollar is spent, while still respecting the privacy of individual homeowners.
“It is complicated and complex to manage all these facets, from volunteer schedules to donation warehousing to damage assessments to making sure we do everything legally and within all the regulations," Staton said. "And, at the end of the day, the total estimated damage to homes in Hurley is more than $6 million. We have started with a little over $200,000.”
“Having said that, we know everyone in Hurley is eager to move on with their lives," Staton said, "and we will do everything we can to help them get back to where they were the day before the flood happened.”
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