Flooding leads to dozens missing in Virginia, evacuations at Tennessee campground

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Two states were beleaguered with flooding incidents Tuesday night, leading to the continued cleanup efforts following a disastrous situation in southwest Virginia, as well as hundreds of residents being evacuated from a Tennessee campground.

Widespread flooding in Buchanan County, Va., Tuesday evening into Wednesday left dozens of individuals missing, with county officials stating Wednesday that 44 missing persons reports have been filed after the severe incident. Officials also noted that there are no reported fatalities as of Wednesday afternoon.

Flooding leads to dozens missing in Virginia, evacuations at Tennessee campground

Flood damage in Pilgrim’s Knob, Va., seen on July 13, 2022.

Later in the afternoon Wednesday, an update from local authorities said that the number of unaccounted for residents is “expected to decrease” as swift-water rescue teams continue to survey the area. Hindering the progress of the rescue teams are a number of roads blocked by landslides, as well as approaches to bridges being washed out.

Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Eric Breeding told reporters that the number of unaccounted for persons is based on relatives attempting to contact an area resident where phone service may be limited or cut off completely.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in trouble or in danger,” Breeding stated. “They’re just letting us know that we need to check on these people.”

Flooding leads to dozens missing in Virginia, evacuations at Tennessee campground

24-hour NOAA doppler rainfall estimates (colors) and rain gauge reports (numbers) during the flooding in Buchanan County, Va., in the early morning of July 13, 2022.

In an update by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the department has been assisting local crews Wednesday, providing support after heavy rains Tuesday night caused flooding and power outages in the Buchanan County area. The county, on the western border of the state, had radar estimates show that more than 6 inches of rain likely fell in the area during the middle of Tuesday night.

While there is no specific number of homes reported to be damaged, VDEM stated that a “significant” number of homes were damaged as a result of the floods, likely topping 100 in all.

As a result of the heavy rainfall and severe flooding, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin declared a state of emergency to assist with response and recovery efforts in Buchanan County.

Flooding leads to dozens missing in Virginia, evacuations at Tennessee campground

Flood damage in Pilgrim’s Knob, Va., seen on July 13, 2022.

The closest U.S. Geological Survey river gauge to Pilgrim’s Knob is located 17 miles away in Litwar, W.Va., on the Tug Fork River. That instrument recorded a rise in water levels of 2 feet within an hour during the flooding.

“I want to thank our first responders and the personnel on the ground for providing assistance with our ongoing operations in Buchanan County,” Youngkin said in a press release. “While rescue and recovery continues, please join me in prayer as we lift up our fellow Virginians impacted by this tragedy.”

Virginia’s southwestern neighbor also experienced hardship due to flash floods late Tuesday. Around 11 p.m., the Gatlinburg Fire Department in Gatlinburg, Tenn., was alerted to a call that 14 people were trapped at the local Greenbrier Campground, with first responders at the scene stating to WVLT News that water had risen to the height of the campground’s picnic tables. The flash flooding at the campground led to the rescue of the trapped individuals, as well as the evacuation of more than 400 people from the site.

Local officials stated that there are no reports of injuries or stranded individuals as of Wednesday. Affected residents who needed shelter into Wednesday morning were set up with a temporary evacuation safe spot at nearby Pittman Center Elementary School, where the American Red Cross responded to those in need. A total of 69 individuals took shelter at the school overnight.

Flooding leads to dozens missing in Virginia, evacuations at Tennessee campground

24-hour doppler rainfall estimates (colors) and rain gauge reports (numbers) during the flooding near Gatlinburg, Tennessee on the evening of July 13, 2022. The Greenbrier Campground is indicated with an “X” (NOAA)

The Greenbrier Campground is located approximately 5 miles northeast of Gatlinburg, and about 30 miles southeast of Knoxville. The campground is also roughly 10 miles away from Dollywood, the theme park partially owned by legendary musician Dolly Parton. Elsewhere in Gatlinburg, previously calm streams were seen roaring past residents Tuesday night.

With limited river gauges in the area, the closest reading of flooding levels was taken 12 miles downstream of the campground near Sevierville, Tenn. The USGS river gauge noted that the river rose over 4 feet within 30 minutes, and over 6 feet within 2 hours.

Observations on top of nearby Mount Leconte reported 3 inches of rain Tuesday, while radar estimates indicate that twice that amount may have fallen in a nearby area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park drains into the valley where the Greenbrier Campground is located on the West Prong Little Pigeon River.

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