CHARLESTON — In a letter penned Wednesday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin urged Congress to include West Virginia in an end-of-year disaster relief package.
With the Mountain State experiencing four natural disasters this year, Tomblin said he wanted to ensure lawmakers include assistance to help families and communities across West Virginia recover.
“2012 has been a rough year for many West Virginia families. We’ve experienced four large storms, and we have families who are still struggling to recover,” Tomblin said. “I want to assure folks, I’m doing everything I can to make sure the federal government provides us with the assistance needed to rebuild our communities and our state.”
In March, tornadoes, strong winds and torrential rains severely damaged a number of communities. Shortly after that, three counties experienced severe flooding. In July, a derecho affected much of the state, leaving many without power for days. Last month, the state experienced blizzard-like conditions, high winds and rainfall as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
Mingo County was severely affected by the natural disasters. The June Derecho, for example, left some areas in the dark without power for more than a week in triple digit heat.
Tomblin was joined by U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, (both D-W.Va.) in requesting more assistance for families in West Virginia.
At a hearing before Rahall’s Committee Wednesday morning to examine FEMA’s response to Hurricane Sandy, Rahall said that he understood the “tremendous burden FEMA officials are under during such widespread disasters like Sandy,” and was aware that they had been there for West Virginians “time and time again.”
“But our citizens need and deserve timely answers, especially when such disaster assistance is so critically needed,” Rahall said.
Last week, at Rahall’s urging, a Federal disaster declaration was issued for 18 counties in West Virginia, including seven counties in the southern part of the state. A decision on whether Individual Assistance will be made available is still being considered by FEMA.
“Clearly, Sandy is yet another reminder that updates to FEMA guidelines are very much needed in order to ensure more timely and responsive disaster assistance,” Rahall said. “More than a month after the storm, West Virginian families are still waiting for a decision on whether Individual Assistance will be made available to help them repair broken roofs, fix affected businesses, and recoup lost wages.
In response to the June Derecho, the House of Representatives passed legislation at Rahall’s request that encourages greater flexibility and more objective criteria in the guidelines that FEMA uses to assess disaster assistance requests, including losses that result from extended power outages.
Under the legislation, FEMA would have one year to review, update, and revise through rulemaking the factors the Agency considers when measuring the severity, magnitude, and impact of a disaster.
“West Virginians across our state were dealt a double-blow from mother nature in less than six months time,” Rahall said. “Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on southern West Virginia following the devastating June Derecho.
After both disasters, power outages were long lasting and widespread; property was destroyed, and lives were seriously disrupted, and even lost. I will keep fighting to expedite Federal assistance and ensure our State’s residents and businesses have every Federal resource available to aid in our recovery.”
In testimony submitted to the Senate Subcommittee on Homeland Security Wednesday, Manchin asked for additional assistance from FEMA to help West Virginians recover from Superstorm Sandy.
“As we all know, Superstorm Sandy caused severe damage in many states on the eastern seaboard. This storm uniquely affected West Virginia with not only heavy winds and rains, but also snow accumulation of 50 inches in the mountains of Northern and Western parts of West Virginia,” Manchin said. “Emergency responders and our National Guard were pushed to the limit by power outages that affected nearly a million of our residents, by the need to vigorously monitor water levels of many affected rivers, and by having to quickly establish emergency shelters all across the state.
“But this is only part of the story of Superstorm Sandy and West Virginia. Our responders also were overwhelmed by dozens of roads that required debris removal, the need for reconnaissance flights to identify downed power lines and substations damaged by fallen trees, and by the urgent requirement to reach individuals across the state who were isolated and in need of such basics as food, water, medicines and shelter.
“Moving forward, FEMA has told us that debris removal remains the biggest issue for our recovery. This storm has left more debris in its wake than any other storm on record, totaling nearly one million cubic yards. Needless to say, with that kind of impact the work to recover is ongoing.”