Damage from Cedar River flooding tops $22 million

Branstad preparing to send request for presidential disaster declaration

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DES MOINES — Communities in 19 Iowa counties sustained more than $22 million in damages when heavy rains last month forced the Cedar River out of its banks — with Linn County taking the biggest hit to public infrastructure topping $12.7 million, according to preliminary government assessments.

John Benson, communications bureau chief in the Iowa Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, said his agency has drafted a letter seeking a presidential disaster declaration for federal aid that is awaiting Gov. Terry Branstad’s approval, which could come as early as Friday.

The preliminary damage estimates compiled by FEMA, state and local officials of $22,045,302 ranks 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.

“FEMA looked over areas last Thursday and Friday,” said Cedar Rapids spokeswoman Maria Johnson. “On Monday, the city gave a preliminary estimate of cost related to the flood of $10.6 million. These estimates are very early in the process and will likely change as departments have more time to evaluate and conduct long-term assessments. It is still very early after the disaster, so departments will need more time to accurately assess what the total costs will be.”

Earlier this month, Branstad said he expected the damage caused by flooding along the Cedar River would warrant a request for President Barack Obama to issue a presidential disaster declaration so affected counties would be eligible for federal assistance to recover from the flooding and make needed repairs. State officials said it would take a minimum of $4.3 million in damage to trigger a presidential disaster request.

During a stop in Marion Thursday, Branstad said he expected to send the request for a presidential disaster declaration “in the near future.” He said his staff was still reviewing the county-by-county numbers.

The governor said the damage from the affected counties is likely to meet the $4.3 million federal threshold for public assistance, but he doubted there is enough damage to private homes to qualify for individual assistance, including buyouts.

“People in Cedar Rapids and Palo and all of these towns did a phenomenal job to avoid this becoming a much worse situation,” the governor said. “We appreciate their efforts whether it was sandbagging or contributing equipment or whatever they did. It’s a great example of Iowa collaboration and cooperation.”

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 has sent a request to the U.S. Small Business Administration for a Physical Disaster Declaration in response to significant damage that was caused by severe storms and flooding from Sept. 21 through Oct. 3. The declaration by the SBA makes low-interest federal disaster loans available to affected Iowa businesses and residents.

Branstad requested the SBA declaration after it was determined the state would not qualify for a Presidential Disaster Declaration for federal Individual Assistance.

Benson said discussions are likely to take place in the future involving various state, federal and volunteer agencies to address unmet needs in the housing arena “in terms of what capabilities can they bring to the table. So it’s going to be a bit of a puzzle to put together and the puzzle pieces are never the same from disaster to disaster. But it’s an issue that we’re going to keep working on.”

Already, 23 counties in Iowa are covered by Branstad’s state disaster declaration: Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Cedar, Cerro Gordo, Chickasaw, Delaware, Fayette, Floyd, Franklin, Hancock, Howard, Jones, Linn, Louisa, Mitchell, Muscatine, Story, Worth and Wright counties.

The governor’s proclamation allows state resources to be utilized to respond to and recover from the effects of these storms and activates the Iowa Individual Assistance Program, which provides grants of up to $5,000 for households with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level or a maximum annual income of $40,180, for a family of three.

Grants are available for home or car repairs, replacement of clothing or food, and for the expense of temporary housing. Original receipts are required for those seeking reimbursement for actual expenses related to storm recovery. The grant application and instructions are available on the Iowa Department of Human Services website. Potential applicants have 45 days from the date of the proclamation to submit a claim.

— James Lynch contributed to this story

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