By Derek Spellman
NEOSHO, Mo. — Newton County has been turned down for a public-disaster declaration by the federal government in connection with the May 10 tornado, but the state is appealing that decision, officials said Wednesday.
Gary Roark, the county’s emergency management director, provided that news during a multi-agency review of the county’s storm response on Wednesday in Neosho. The declaration would have allowed Newton County to be reimbursed for the cost of debris removal and disposal. It would also have allowed Newtonia, for example, to seek assistance in rebuilding its destroyed City Hall.
Individual homeowners, renters and businesses affected by the May 10 tornado are eligible for federal assistance under a private-sector disaster declaration that was issued a couple of weeks after the tornado.
But Roark said the county apparently did not qualify for a public declaration because, according to the formula utilized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it needed to have sustained about $7 million in damage and recovery costs. The formula factors in elements such as actual damage sustained and population.
A damage assessment completed by FEMA and the State Emergency Management Agency put the county’s total damage and cleanup costs at more than $6.6 million. Roark said he thought the assessment underestimated the cost of debris removal. The assessment estimated countywide debris removal at $2.6 million.
“It is a big deal to us,” Roark told those gathered for the disaster response review, including representatives from relief agencies, utilities and emergency responders. “There is still a lot of debris out there.”
Susie Stonner, a SEMA spokeswoman, said the state has appealed the denial on Newton County’s behalf.
Stonner said the appeal included additional information about Newton County and its recent weather woes that SEMA officials think will bolster the county’s case.
For example, SEMA has submitted additional demographic information showing that the county is more rural than simple population figures might show. The state also has detailed the severe weather, some of which triggered disaster declarations, in the county over the past couple of years to illustrate hardship, she said.
Stonner said SEMA does not know when a decision on its appeal will be made.
Jerry Carter, presiding Newton County commissioner, said county officials are exploring all their options in terms of debris removal.
He said the county will help residents, but that it will have to prioritize cleanup projects into those that demand immediate attention versus those that do not while awaiting word on the appeal.
“We don’t intend to give up,” Carter said.
July 22 is the deadline for homeowners and renters to register with FEMA for assistance because of damage sustained during the severe storms in May. To register with FEMA, people may call (800) 621-3362.
By Derek Spellman
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