Last week, photographer Jessica Nuzzo and I took a trip down to Buchanan County to cover the flood damage along Guesses Fork Road in Hurley, Va. Neither of us had ever visited Hurley, so Jessica downloaded and printed out some directions. Mountains often confuse GPS systems, but Jessica's system actually worked and got us where we needed to go.
We quickly saw that the word "damage" was inadequate. The word "devastation" was a lot more appropriate.
Our first stop was the Hurley Community Center where Chief Deputy Eric Breeding of the Buchanan County Sheriff's Department spoke with us and helped us learn where we needed to go. The community center was an orderly beehive of activity with volunteers unloading supplies and Virginia National Guard troops loading them up in military trucks for delivery. A grocery store's worth of bottled water, food, cleaning supplies and more were ready to go.
After getting some video and interviews, we went to Guesses Fork Road. I've seen what floods can do thanks to previous incidents I've covered – boulders the size of refrigerators washed into yards, homes filled with mud or knocked off their foundations – but this was much worse.
The first thing I saw when we reached Guesses Fork was a house smashed against a railroad trestle. And this was not a mobile home or a doublewide, best I could tell from the wreckage. This was a two-story home that was literally washed away and crushed against the trestle. This was the power of Mother Nature in full fury.
We managed to drive down the muddy road, but it was slow going. Crews were erecting new power poles to replace the ones that were washed away: I think about 35 of them were going up. More crews were cutting down trees that had toppled into the road. Guesses Fork Road had turned into one long construction site. We had to wait up to half an hour or more just to move about 100 feet.
Fortunately, the road soon cleared and we were able to park and walk. Jessica was shooting photos of everything noteworthy, and there was certainly a lot of that. I tried to find people who experienced the flood while gathering sights for a story. Bridges that linked homesteads with Guesses Fork Road were either damaged or gone. Even the bridges that looked intact were covered with debris. Pickup trucks and cars populated the creek like discarded toys. Pieces of homes were everywhere.
And this flash flood was literally fast. One man told me that he and his family only had a few minutes to grab some food and climb up the hillside behind their house. Another resident said the flood was the scariest thing that had ever happened to him. Breeding told us that about 35 homes were either destroyed or just gone. One person had died.
The people who had suffered through this devastation were coping as best they could, and a lot of folks were reaching out to help. What impressed me was the fact that many of them were not asked to participate. They came to help without being invited.
We encountered three people riding up and down the road on an ATV. Whenever they saw work crews or residents sorting through the wreckage, they stopped to offer homemade hotdogs, snacks and soft drinks. In another case, a ministry in Richlands, Va. was using Facebook to collect donations. People from Bland County, Va. including the Bland County Sheriff's Officem were there to help, too. Disaster was bringing out the best in people.
It's going to take months or even years for the victims of the 2021 Hurley flood to recover. There was a flood in 2002, but everyone said that the 2021 flash flooding far exceeded the damage wrought almost 21 years earlier.
I'm sure that they will recover. This region's people are resilient as well as generous. The residents of Hurley will remember the terrible flood of 2021, and this memory will inspire them and their children when disaster strikes other communities and leads them to being the ones who offer material support and even more importantly, emotional support when faced with loss.
— Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph's senior reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org