Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spread out across the state Wednesday — with half of the resources in the Miami Valley — categorizing tornado damage and finding out whether communities are short the means to rebuild on their own.
“We want to understand the total impacts to the community — and that’s not just structures that were actually impacted,” said Mark Peterson with FEMA. “We really want to know what the trauma was to the community, potentially loss of jobs and the overall impacts that we’ve seen from these storms.”
State officials called the federal agency here after a confirmed record-breaking 21 tornadoes struck Ohio on Memorial Day night through the next morning. FEMA teams were also in Beavercreek on Wednesday as well as in Mercer county, where the only official fatality was reported in Celina.
Fifteen of the tornadoes were in this region of the state, including the largest that swept through Trotwood, where one FEMA team and those with the Small Business Administration (SBA) met with state and area emergency management officials before heading into the field.
“A lot of devastation has happened here, and our belief is our community should definitely be considered for FEMA grants,” said Trotwood Mayor Mary McDonald. “We are just moving ourselves forward and making sure that those needs are going to be met, and we are going to need the help from the president to get those needs met.”
Jeff Jordan, director of the Montgomery County Emergency Management Agency, told the FEMA team the tornadoes that hit Montgomery County disproportionately damaged lower-income areas.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges we’re going to face,” Jordan said. “Who’s going to rebuild those homes? They’re not necessarily insured. They are not people with great means. We are losing a substantial percentage of just residential housing stock in the county.”
A preliminary assessment by officials show the twisters made unlivable 631 residential structures in Montgomery County, including a majority of the buildings at Westbrooke Village Apartments, where the team in Trotwood started work.
Only a couple of the 11 buildings remain habitable. The team noted structural damage, including bowed outside walls and broken out windows. Along the way, they took photos and collected GPS information for mapping the damage.
A complex set of damage thresholds, or “impact criteria,” determines eligibility for individual federal assistance and low-interest loans. A key element is how much storm damage is covered by insurance and how much is uninsured, Peterson said.
“Another big factor is what levels of insurance there is,” Peterson said. “Ultimately, FEMA assistance cannot duplicate other forms of assistance, and one of those things is insurance. So that’s a big factor in determining whether or not there is an unmet need.”
Many of the roofs at Westbrooke Village are gone, including one that was over the heads of Michelle Edwards, a daughter and her grandson.
“The next thing I knew, I heard these big booms and then we ran into the bathroom to try to cover up,” said Edwards, who stopped by the complex’s management office for bottled water on Wednesday.
Edwards said she didn’t have insurance.
“I lost everything — TVs, clothes, food. Everything,” she said.
People with uninsured damages from the tornadoes in Montgomery County should call the county EMA’s hotline at 937-225-6217 as part of the damage assessment. The line is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“A lot of renters in apartments don’t have renter’s insurance,” Peterson said. “They lose a lot.”
Once the joint preliminary damage assessment is complete, FEMA and SBA will hand over a report to the Ohio EMA. If federal impact criteria are met, Gov. Mike DeWine can request a Presidential Disaster Declaration, and President Donald Trump would ultimately determine whether any federal assistance is granted.
Later, the FEMA team moved to the Woodland Hills Apartments, noting blown-out windows, downed carports and logging where an entire end of a building remains on April Cartwright’s flattened car.
“It’s a stressful situation. I’m missing work … That stress is tearing me up on the inside,” Cartwright said. “I’m just trying to maintain, push on and deal with life. I’m not going to stop.”
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