Branstad requests presidential disaster declaration for Iowa flooding in September

Governor also creates flood recovery task force

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DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad signed a letter Friday asking President Obama to issue a presidential disaster declaration for public assistance as a result of damage sustained in 19 Iowa counties from last month’s severe storms and flooding.

The governor’s request did not include activation of the federal Individual assistance program as the damage incurred to private homes during flooding did not meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria.

Iowa counties included in Branstad’s request included Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Cerro Gordo, Chickasaw, Clayton, Delaware, Des Moines, Fayette, Floyd, Franklin, Howard, Linn, Mitchell, Winneshiek and Wright.

The governor requested funding under FEMA’S public assistance program, which is used to rebuild damaged infrastructure that may include roads, bridges, culverts and other public facilities, or to cover costs of emergency work during, and debris removal after, the storms.

A joint federal, state, and local preliminary damage assessment of the 19 counties found the severe weather caused an estimated $22 million worth of damage that could be eligible under the public assistance program. The governor also requested funding to conduct hazard mitigation activities for the entire state.

John Benson, communications bureau chief in the Iowa Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, said the damage estimates compiled by FEMA, state and local officials of $22,045,302 ranked this year’s Cedar River flooding as the seventh worst weather disaster dating back to 1990, Benson noted. Two other counties — Black Hawk and Butler — had public infrastructure damages exceeding $1 million.

In Linn County, the damage estimated at $12,742,469 includes about $11.3 million for the city of Cedar Rapids, about $630,000 for the county, $314,000 for the city of Palo and $373,000 for the Mercy Medical complex, Benson said. Damage to infrastructure in upstream Black Hawk County totaled at least $3,423,005 and Butler County’s damage assessment totaled $1,633,164, he added.

Benson said about 500 homes and businesses in Iowa also were damaged by the flooding event — including 103 that were assessed as destroyed or having sustained major damage. The number with damage not covered by insurance was 79, which Benson said is below threshold needed to trigger individual FEMA eligibility.

Branstad’s request for a presidential disaster declaration does not include a request for the federal individual assistance program, which provides assistance to homeowners, renters and businesses to pay for temporary housing, home repairs and other disaster-related expenses.

Officials from the state and FEMA completed a joint preliminary damage assessment for federal individual assistance earlier this month which determined the 79 uninsured homes that sustained major damage or were destroyed during this event fell far below the FEMA threshold to request federal funding.

The U.S. Small Business Administration did grant an SBA disaster declaration to make low-interest loans available to impacted residents and businesses in Black Hawk, Bremer, Butler, Cerro Gordo, Chickasaw, Floyd, Franklin, Grundy, and Hardin counties. Also, SBA officials have opened a Disaster Loan Outreach Center in Butler County to assist residents in applying for loans.

Iowa’s entire congressional delegation also wrote the president urging him to declare 19 Iowa counties a federal disaster area, making them eligible to receive federal aid for the damage inflicted by high winds, severe thunderstorms, heavy rains, hail and flash flooding and resulted in riverine flooding from Sept. 21 through Oct. 3.

“The governor determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments to handle effectively and federal assistance is needed,” the delegation wrote. “In many locations, the flooding was at a near record level, second only to the flood of 2008.”

Signing the letter were U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, and U.S. Reps. Rod Blum, Steve King, Dave Loebsack and David Young.

Also Friday, Branstad announced the creation of a flood recovery task force -- comprised of state and local agencies -- to address the unmet needs of impacted residents as part of an effort to assist Iowans in their recovery from flooding and severe weather. The task force will focus on working with communities to develop long-term housing recovery options, he added.

“This task force has been established to help meet the unmet needs of those who have sustained damage from the recent flooding,” Branstad said in a statement. “Members of the task force will bring with them a number of resources and creative solutions to help communities and people rebuild their homes, businesses, and most importantly, their lives.”

Read Gov. Branstad’s letter in its entirety here.

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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