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More than a month's rain in 10 days: Henry County crews have been flooded with emergencies

More than a month's rain in 10 days: Henry County crews have been flooded with emergencies

Only $3 for 13 weeks

The storms and flooding that deluged Henry County over the past week were record-setting in many ways, officials said.

The area received more than a month’s worth of rain in 10 days. Philpott Lake crested over the dam’s spillway for the first time since it was built in 1953. And, after the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday afternoon, this is the first time in recent memory that Henry County has been under two emergency declarations at the same time, County Administrator Tim Hall said.

Supervisors on Tuesday voted to affirm the state of emergency issued by Hall on Sunday night, when severe storms and flash flooding forced evacuations, downed numerous trees and closed roads near the Smith River. Hall noted that the earlier emergency declaration related to COVID-19 is still in effect, as well.

Later in the meeting, the board also discussed ways to help the county’s volunteer fire and rescue departments, who are facing unprecedented circumstances of their own.

County workers have been out assessing the storm’s damage this week in case federal or state disaster relief funds become available. Henry County Public Safety Director Matt Tatum said as of Tuesday afternoon, crews had already documented close to a million dollars in personal property damage.

However, he added, to his knowledge there have been no injuries and no loss of human life from the floods, and “that is the ultimate goal.”

Tatum told the board that the combination of “the volume of the rainfall, the speed that it fell, along with some unusual circumstances around the river, as well as the saturation of the ground from the previous rainfall created the perfect storm.”

Sunday night’s events highlighted the hard work of first responders and the need to support volunteers, officials said. When floodwaters entered inside of Stanleytown Health and Rehabilitation Center and threatened to force an evacuation of the patients, emergency workers from Henry County and its neighboring localities stepped up to help.

“Fortunately, we didn’t have to do that, but at one time it was nice to know we had 16 ambulances sitting up the road from that facility, ready to move those patients if necessary. It spoke volumes,” Tatum said.

Hall praised public safety staff, the 9-1-1 call center and volunteer first responders, saying, “Their responsiveness and the willingness to jump in and do the job was phenomenal.”

Agencies from Franklin County, Patrick County, Roanoke County, the city of Salem and Guilford County, N.C., sent crews and equipment “sometimes before we even asked for it — they just showed up,” Hall said.

In addition, he said, “the local Red Cross and Social Services staff members who came out and worked were with us all night, as were personnel from the Henry County Schools. The VDOT crews were incredible, and our PSA staff was as well. I even had a local business person call and offer to provide meals for workers if it looked like we’d need them.”

Said Collinsville Supervisor Joe Bryant: “We’ve lost a lot of our volunteers over the years, but the ones that are here, they’re dedicated. Our volunteers need special thanks.”

In just one example, Bassett Volunteer Fire Department responded to 13 emergency calls related to the storm within a 2-hour period Sunday night. This included 23 volunteers. The next day, 12 volunteers “spent the entire day with little to no sleep washing out parking lots of local churches and businesses,” said Chief Junior Lynch.

While the board did not take a formal vote, supervisors agreed to allow volunteer fire and EMS departments some flexibility on a requirement to receive county funds in the new fiscal year.

Vice Chair Debra Buchanan brought up the issue after talking to volunteer firefighters in her district. “Because of COVID, they’ve been struggling. Their audit is not back yet,” which could prevent them from being funded starting July 1, she said.

The Board of Supervisors put a rule in place several years ago that any outside agency receiving funds from Henry County must have a current audit on file before funds can be dispersed.

While “we put that in place for a reason,” Buchanan said she is concerned the rule could hurt the county’s 13 volunteer agencies because of circumstances beyond their control. The pandemic has forced departments to cancel their usual fundraisers and could delay the return of audits, she said.

Supervisors agreed to allow volunteer fire and EMS departments to receive at least partial funding July 1 if they provide information to the county that an audit is in process.

Board Chair Jim Adams said the situation is a reminder to the public that these agencies “need our continuous support.”

Kim Barto Meeks is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at 276-638-8801.

Kim Barto Meeks is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at 276-638-8801.

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