At a Congressional Subcommittee hearing yesterday, U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, (D-W.Va.), called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to continue expediting efforts to ensure that West Virginians receive the full range of federal assistance available as they work to recover from the June 29 storms.
“Even though all of the damages may not fit FEMA’s traditional criteria or figures for individual disaster assistance, will you give the same sense of urgency to West Virginia’s forthcoming request for Individual Assistance that you have given to the Public Assistance declaration?” Rahall asked FEMA Associate Administrator David Miller.
Miller was testifying at the hearing of a Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on which Rahall serves as top Democrat.
He responded positively, saying that FEMA would give West Virginia’s request “the fullest consideration,” and noted that FEMA head Craig Fugate was conscious of how disasters affect individuals.
On Monday, it was announced that President Barack Obama had issued a disaster declaration for 45 West Virginia counties, allowing public assistance to be made available for emergency work and the repair or replacement of publicly owned facilities.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is also expected to soon file an Individual Assistance disaster request which would enable grant money and services to be provided to individuals who incurred uninsured property damage and losses.
During the hearing, the Congressman highlighted the impact of this disaster on West Virginia households and businesses, many of whom went two weeks without power. Rahall, who toured communities throughout southern West Virginia following the storm, described the widespread damage he witnessed and the challenges that families, the elderly, hospitals, and businesses all suffered in coping with the aftermath of the monstrous derecho winds.
Those thoughts were echoed by Jimmy Gianato, Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for West Virginia, who appeared before the Congressional panel at the invitation of Rahall to provide his perspective while Congress looked at long-range measures to help protect communities from future disasters.
“The widespread devastation this storm produced in West Virginia was without precedent,” Gianato told the Subcommittee.
Rahall asked Gianato if the Individual Assistance program administered by FEMA was sufficiently flexible given that so many families suffered losses that they cannot afford.
“No two disasters are alike,” Gianato said. “This latest storm that impacted West Virginia is unlike anything we have seen and the impact on the citizens is not like a traditional disaster. The key is having the flexibility in the law so that FEMA and the Administration can work through the different problems as we come to them.”
“We are forever indebted to public servants like Jimmy Gianato and all our emergency officials and volunteers who responded in the aftermath of this storm,” Rahall said. “I was encouraged to hear today that FEMA will be giving full consideration to West Virginia’s expected request for Individual Assistance, and I will continue to work with our state officials as we press for the full range of assistance our residents.
“It is certainly my hope that this part of the process is moved along quickly so that West Virginians can soon receive the help they so badly need to recover from the devastating June storm.”