Gov. Mary Fallin today filed a formal appeal on behalf of residents and business owners in nine eastern Oklahoma counties affected by a winter storm and flooding that struck after Christmas.
The governor asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reverse its recent decision denying individual assistance for homeowners, renters and business owners affected by a winter storm of ice, sleet and flooding that began Dec. 26. The assistance was sought for Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, Mayes, McCurtain, Muskogee, Ottawa, Pushmataha and Sequoyah counties. Read the full text of the letter online.
FEMA approved public assistance for 41 Oklahoma counties that were affected by the same storm and individual assistance for 33 Missouri counties and 11 Arkansas counties.
“I am at a loss to explain how these neighboring states qualified for Individual Assistance while damage from the same storm in our adjacent Oklahoma counties fell short of garnering the same federal aid,” Fallin wrote. “Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri residents sustained damage during the same period, from the same storm. Weather systems recognize no county or state lines and yet Oklahomans have been left behind.
“Moreover, in all of the nine counties still desperately in need of Individual Assistance, infrastructure was damaged so badly by the storm that Public Assistance was declared. It only makes sense that the same storm system that delivered an estimated $48 million in damages to roads and bridges, parks and public buildings as well as electric power systems, would similarly damage homes and businesses. The whole community suffers when the citizens’ homes and livelihoods are lost without resources to rebuild.
“In the case of the residents of these nine counties denied Individual Assistance, it seems these Oklahomans simply were unlucky enough to experience their damage in the wrong state and the wrong counties,” the governor wrote.
The storm resulted in power outages for more than 200,000 homes and businesses statewide, numerous road closures and dangerous travel conditions in some areas. The storm is blamed for at eight deaths and still two more are expected to be attributed to the storm.
Updated assessments and reports indicate 122 homes were destroyed and 118 others were damaged as a result of the storms. Additionally, an estimated $48 million in infrastructure damages and response costs have been identified in these counties.
Two months after the storm, housing remains a major issue. Left without other options, numerous families are living in travel trailers and some even in tents. Still more are living day to day with friends and family members and in motels as they continue to search for housing options they can afford.
An individual assistance declaration would make renters and home and business owners eligible for assistance with housing repairs or temporary housing and disaster unemployment assistance. It would also provide for U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) low-interest loans for individuals and businesses and grants for serious needs and necessary disaster expenses not met by other programs.