FEMA, White House deny disaster relief help for Polk County

Photo courtesy Kim McMinn

RALEIGH – North Carolina will appeal a decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and The White House not to grant a major disaster declaration for the May floods and mudslides in Polk County and Western North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper said Tuesday.

The Governor’s Office and North Carolina Emergency Management learned Monday that the federal government had denied the state’s request for a federal disaster declaration. The state is seeking the declaration to pave the way for FEMA assistance for people and communities affected by the storms.

“Five people died as a result of these storms and many others suffered damage to their homes and businesses. Many roads, bridges and driveways were washed out,” Governor Roy Cooper said. “People in Western North Carolina need help recovering and we will keep doing everything we can to get it to them, including appealing this disappointing decision by FEMA.”

“We are disappointed in the decision from FEMA, but we know that the state is appealing the decision,” Polk County Manager Marche Pittman said. “We have also been made aware by the State Division of Emergency Management that there is an opportunity for the State of North Carolina to help fund some damage relief if the FEMA appeal is unsuccessful.”

In a letter to Gov. Cooper, FEMA officials said they rejected the request because they considered the storm impacts on Western North Carolina to be separate and distinct events rather than part of one large storm. FEMA generally evaluates storm systems separated by 72 hours independently rather than as part of one large event and thus requires each event to meet the stated requirements for a disaster declaration.

Three deaths occurred in Polk County and more than 150 residents suffered some type of storm-related damage. Polk County Local Government spent more than $15,000 in removing storm-related debris from the Lake Adger dam as well as repairing other county-owned property.

North Carolina has already succeeded in getting help from other federal government programs for the same storms. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue declared four North Carolina counties – Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania – as natural disaster areas, and the USDA Farm Service agency is opening its emergency loan program for those and neighboring counties. The U.S. Small Business Administration is opening its loan programs to assist farmers, small businesses and nonprofits affected by the disaster.

Gov. Cooper requested a disaster declaration covering 13 counties for severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides in the period of May 15-31, including the rains from Sub-Tropical Storm Alberto. North Carolina received a letter from FEMA administrator Brock Long on Monday denying the request and explaining that FEMA determined that “the damages resulted from separate and distinct events, none of which were of the severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments.”

The state has 30 days from Aug. 20 to submit its formal appeal to FEMA and is working on it with members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Citizens with questions about the federal disaster declaration can contact Public Information Officer/Emergency Management Keith Acree with the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety at (919) 825-2517 or keith.acree@ncdps.gov.