Obama declares federal disaster in Iowa, makes aid available

Designation covers 19 counties hit by flooding

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DES MOINES — President Barack Obama designated 19 Iowa counties as eligible for federal assistance to help rebound from at least $22 million in damages caused by extensive flooding along the Cedar River from Sept. 21 to Oct. 3.

Obama signed a presidential disaster proclamation Monday declaring that a major disaster exists in parts of Iowa and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the affected areas of Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Cerro Gordo, Chickasaw, Clayton, Delaware, Des Moines, Fayette, Floyd, Franklin, Howard, Linn, Mitchell, Winneshiek and Wright counties.

Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private non-profit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms and flooding in the designated counties. Federal funding also is available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, named James N. Russo as the federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.

FEMA said additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.

Last month, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a letter asking Obama to issue a presidential disaster declaration for public assistance as a result of damage sustained in 19 Iowa counties. However, 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 FEMA’s criteria.

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.

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.

Steve Estenson, Linn County risk manager, said flood insurance should cover any damage to the interior of the county courthouse and sheriff’s office, which saw some water damage.

Anything after that would be submitted to FEMA, he said.

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said expenses in a “typical disaster” are covered by 75 percent federal money, 10 percent state and 15 percent local. FEMA must still write project worksheets to identify costs, he said.

“The declaration is good news, and will help Cedar Rapids as we work towards recovery,” Pomeranz said. “We appreciate the quick response of the Governor, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the President for signing the declaration.”

In conjunction with Iowa’s latest severe weather event, 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 is to focus on working with communities to develop long-term housing recovery options, according to the governor’s office.

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

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