18 counties will receive federal disaster aid

Friday, March 14, 2008
Ice caused major damage in Jackson during February's storms. (Bob Miller)

Jackson Mayor Barbara Lohr was relieved to learn that federal aid is on the way.

On Feb. 29, Gov. Matt Blunt issued a formal request for federal aid to help 18 Missouri counties clobbered by ice storms that swept the state between Feb. 10 and 14. On Wednesday, he learned that aid was approved. Blunt's office announced the decision Thursday. Initial estimates put damage to public infrastructure at $13.8 million.

"We are extremely relieved that this hurdle has been crossed," Lohr said Thursday morning.

Mark Hasheider, the city of Cape Girardeau's emergency management director, said the reimbursements, while partial, are welcome. He said 75 percent of the storm's costs will be paid by the federal government; 10 percent is from state coffers and local governments must provide the remaining 15 percent.

"It does allow us some relief from the impact of the storm," he said.

So far, the storms cost Jackson $1.3 million "and the amount continues to grow," Lohr said. Most of the cost came from hiring outside contractors to get power restored from the city's electric plant. But now, Lohr said, her public works crews may see some relief. With federal and state aid, the city can afford to hire contractors to speed debris removal.

Assistance will go to Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Scott, Stoddard, Butler, Carter, Christian, Douglas, Greene, Madison, Mississippi, Ozark, Reynolds, Shannon, Texas, Wayne, Webster and Wright counties.

Local governments will get storm damage aid related to emergency protective services, debris removal and repair of public infrastructure.

James Bollinger, Bollinger County's emergency management director and Marble Hill's fire chief, said he got the news Thursday morning.

"It's going to keep us from having to reach into our county and city budgets to clean up the results of the ice storm," he said. Bollinger met Thursday night with the Marble Hill City Council and said he would be talking to county officials this morning.

He said work crews were relying on a rented wood chipper and chain saws to clear debris from ditches along 300 miles of county roads. The aid package may be spent, in part, on outside contractors to clear debris more quickly.

Throughout the critical days, Hasheider said, emergency responders had to do their jobs as well as try to keep the best records possible.

"We have to be able to provide that to FEMA for reimbursement," he said. "A lot of it has to do with paperwork and documentation."

Each local government has to prove what it cost to do everything from removing snow to clearing fallen limbs and trees to responding to life-threatening emergencies.

Hasheider said FEMA sets reimbursement standards annually.

"For example, if we're doing snow removal, for so many hours, with so many vehicles, FEMA would have a rate for that," he said.

State Emergency Management Agency officials are organizing a series of briefings for public officials and not-for-profit private agencies next week to review the reimbursement process.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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