Front Porch Blog

Rising strong together: Hurley’s recovery journey, a community listening session and the road ahead

A flooded town in a valley

An aerial view of Hurley, Va., in the aftermath of the August 2021 flood. Photo courtesy of Billy Bowling

In the heart of Buchanan County, Virginia, lies the tight-knit community of Hurley. Nestled amidst the Appalachian Mountains, Hurley has long grappled with the devastating consequences of floods and mudslides. Over the years, the residents of this coal mining town have faced countless challenges, but their spirit remains unbroken. The New Economy Team at Appalachian Voices recently held a community listening session to better understand the needs and priorities of this flood-prone community.

A history of resilience amidst adversity

For decades, Hurley has been plagued by recurring floods, with the most recent one striking in August of 2021. Six inches of rain fell, causing Knox Creek to overflow its banks and unleashing flash floods and mudslides that caused extensive damage. Tragically, 60 homes were destroyed, while 200 others sustained various degrees of damage. To compound the issue, 15 vital bridges were washed away in the torrential waters. Hurley’s unique topography and geography, coupled with heavy mining activity, render it particularly susceptible to flooding and their devastating aftermath.

Damage from the August 2021 flood is still visible in this photo taken two years later. Photo courtesy of Tanner Hale

One striking feature of Hurley is the number of homes that are cut off from the nearest road by streams, requiring bridges as an essential part of many driveways. This reliance on bridges for access leaves residents vulnerable to the unpredictable forces of nature. And it’s not just flooding; mudslides from the surrounding mountains have also caused considerable harm to the community.

Amidst this ongoing struggle, Appalachian Voices has been engaged in aiding those affected by flooding across Buchanan County for over a year. After holding a series of community listening sessions across Southwest Virginia and recognizing the unique challenges faced by Hurley, we decided to delve more deeply into the community to identify specific needs and opportunities for economic and community development.

A community listening session: The path to progress

Robert Kell, new economy program manager for Appalachian Voices, talks during a community listening session in Hurley, Va.

To better understand the challenges and aspirations of Hurley’s residents, Appalachian Voices organized a Hurley-focused community listening session. The purpose of this session was to identify the priorities of the community and assess the needs of Hurley comprehensively. With 31 dedicated residents in attendance, the session promised to be a crucial step forward.

Several pressing issues came to light. Foremost among them was the dire need for a cell phone tower in the area. In an age where connectivity is paramount, Hurley’s residents recognize that having reliable access to communication is crucial for their safety and well-being. As many learned, having cell reception is especially crucial in emergency situations. The swift-moving flood rendered victims helpless and with no means to call for assistance.

Furthermore, many residents expressed concerns about future floods and the need for emergency preparedness. They called for the establishment of a disaster readiness shelter, equipped with generators, food stores, emergency supplies and more. This would provide a safe haven for those seeking shelter or displaced by natural disasters, ensuring the community was better equipped to respond to such emergencies in the future.

Despite the challenges, Hurley is a community bound together by resilience and a deep love for their home. However, due to a lack of housing options, some residents who were displaced by the floods had no choice but to leave Hurley. This loss of community members further highlights the urgency of addressing the community’s needs.

A commitment to recovery

The community listening session in Hurley drew a sizable crowd.

Securing an Environmental Defense Fund grant to advance climate resiliency efforts in Buchanan County, Appalachian Voices is committed to supporting the Hurley community, and we have pledged to provide technical assistance and to continue connecting those impacted by the flood to available resources and support. Residents’ commitment to rebuilding and strengthening the community is a testament to the power of collective action and hope. Numerous nonprofit and charitable organizations are actively aiding flood recovery efforts. Appalachian Voices will continue to leverage its resources, including the RACER (Renewables Advancing Communities’ Energy Resilience) program, to support communities in Southwest Virginia, including Hurley. We are actively exploring additional grant opportunities to provide technical assistance in the application process for projects aimed at fulfilling Hurley’s specific needs and ensuring their successful implementation.

In Hurley, the story is not just one of adversity but also of resilience, determination and community spirit. As efforts continue to address the community’s needs, the future holds the promise of a safer, more connected Hurley, where residents can live with the peace of mind they deserve. The path to recovery and resilience has been illuminated, and the journey continues with hope on the horizon.

A native of Southwest Virginia, Amanda is keenly passionate downtown revitalization and believes that the road to economic development and diversification in coal-impacted communities begins at a local level. She works with Appalachian Voices as our New Economy Program Coordinator


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