A West Virginia Congressman is trying to secure federal relief for the thousands still left without electricity within the state due to the vicious June 29 storms.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall is working to facilitate a potential request by the State of West Virginia for a federal disaster declaration and is urging President Barack Obama to use the full extent of his authorities in assisting West Virginians in recovering from the storms, a news release from his office stated.
“Since the storm hit, I have traveled to several counties in my congressional district, and have seen first-hand the extreme difficulties being endured by our citizens in what is now the second week for many without power,” Rahall said. “Homes and businesses may still be in the dark, but it’s not hard to see that tight family budgets have suffered big hits. I personally spoke with the president and have contacted top FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) officials to press for the full range of assistance our residents and businesses are entitled to under a disaster declaration.”
State and local governments are primarily in charge of response and recovery efforts, but FEMA provides various disaster related assistance authorized by the Stafford Act, such as loans and grants for the uninsured needs of businesses, communities, and individuals.
FEMA had multiple offices in Mingo and surrounding counties for victims of the late February-early March storms, tornadoes, floods and mudslides.
The full range of federal disaster relief is unavailable until Obama issues a major disaster declaration, which Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin must first request. Today, the West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and FEMA officials will begin joint Preliminary Damage Assessments evaluating damages from the recent power outages.
Rahall, the release stated, is urging the President and FEMA officials to consider the special circumstances in the West Virginia, given the state-wide power outages that resulted from multiple storms beginning on June 29 and the continuing extreme heat, as well as the high population of seniors and families on fixed incomes.
“There may not have been as extensive physical damage to homes, businesses, and public infrastructure as in other disasters West Virginians have endured, but there were still significant financial losses and costs incurred by our residents, businesses and whole communities because of the power outages, and those costs are widespread,” Rahall said.
“I have personally met with many of our first responders, visited many of our sick and elderly seniors in their homes and nursing centers, and handed out food and water at food pantries and cooling centers,” Rahall said. “We owe a heap of gratitude and tremendous thanks to the Salvation Army, our local churches and their pastors, and countless number of volunteers who selfishly gave their time and resources to help mitigate the suffering of so many.
“I have witnessed the heroic efforts of our National Guard, our state’s Emergency Management Services teams, utility crews working non-stop, and the Red Cross to help save West Virginians from life-threatening situations in the extreme heat. There’s no question in my mind that Federal disaster assistance is warranted, which is why I have asked the president and to FEMA officials to consider the extenuating circumstances with which our citizens are struggling,” Rahall said.
The Congressman spoke with Obama about the needs of West Virginia residents and businesses and urged expeditious action on any State disaster request at a signing ceremony at the White House on Friday for the long-term highway reauthorization bill,Since then, Rahall has returned to southern West Virginia and spoken with FEMA to reiterate the needs of both residents and businesses.
“I brought the matter to the president’s personal attention and let him know the state’s disaster request may be coming next week. I also urged the president and top FEMA officials to keep in mind that this was a unique occurrence that may not neatly fall into the scenarios envisioned by the Stafford Act,” Rahall said. “For so many to lose power during such extreme heat, and to be without power for so long, especially for those on fixed incomes who have little or no money to buy food, supplies or even ice, even when it could be found, that warrants special attention.”