Three weeks after devastating tornadoes hit the Dayton region, it remains unclear if or when federal disaster relief will be available to assist rebuilding, but Ohio’s governor and both the state’s U.S. senators are pressuring President Donald Trump for funding.
“It’s as urgent as we can make it. Normally, in past administrations we’ve been able to do it and we’ve got to make sure we do it here,” said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown on Monday while hearing about recovery efforts.
Brown, D-Ohio, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, have both toured storm-ravaged areas of the state; so, too, has Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who formally asked President Donald Trump a week ago for a Presidential Disaster Declaration and federal assistance.
With Trump’s signature, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster recover centers could open in as soon as two weeks, Brown said after meeting with officials including those from Beavercreek, Dayton, Mercer and Montgomery counties, state EMA officials and area nonprofits and business groups.
Tom Kelley, Montgomery County’s assistant administrator for human services said people numbering in the thousands will need help well into the distant future.
County working with area housing agencies
Of the 3,200 addresses in Montgomery County affected by the tornadoes, 2,900 of those were residential and primarily in low income areas. Of those, 650 of the residential addresses were rendered uninhabitable.
“The housing stock is valued at such a lower level, you’re not going to replace them as they were,” Kelley said. “What does replacement even look like in some of those communities moving forward?”
Kelley said the county is working with area housing agencies on short and long-term to find homes for those displaced.
“Should the FEMA declaration come, or should it not come, whatever happens, we’ve got to make sure we leverage that capacity in the best way we can.”
Portman said federal help is needed — and soon.
“We need the help quickly,” Portman told Jeffrey Byard, Trump’s nominee to head FEMA. “The small businesses and individuals who were impacted are deeply hurting and the community has responded and it’s been incredible, but we’ve got to have some help and we need it now.”
Red Cross handling more than 1,000 cases
Cory Paul, executive director of the American Red Cross’ Dayton chapter, said the organization has opened 1,000 cases so far, many representing families.
“That’s a lot of people,” he said, not counting organizations like St. Vincent DePaul and the Salvation Army providing services to others.
Only about 27 percent of those the Red Cross is working with have some sort of insurance, Paul said.
Mike Robbins, Mercer County’s emergency management director said most of 60 homes destroyed there were relatively new. The hardest-hit area contained homes valued at about $250,000. And though a few have faulty coverage, most were covered, he said. But the county where the lone confirmed fatality occurred is still dealing with problems, he said.
“They were fully insured, but it’s finding a place for them to live,” Robbins said. “There are still unmet needs.”
DeWine has yet to get response from Trump
As of Monday, DeWine had yet to receive a formal response to a letter sent to President Donald Trump asking for federal emergency disaster relief, according to a governor’s office spokesman.
“The widespread destruction of homes, apartments, and businesses, particularly in the Dayton urban areas, is tragic and will require a recovery process that could stretch over a number of years,” said DeWine.
The 21 tornadoes that swept across the state Memorial Day evening and the next morning destroyed homes, entire apartment complexes and businesses. Storms left 70,000 people in the Dayton area without electricity and took a life in Celina.
Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration as well as state authorities spread out a couple weeks ago across the 10 counties impacted to categorize tornado damage and see whether communities are short the resources to rebuild on their own.
Brown said he expects Trump to sign the disaster declaration, but has a remaining concern.
“The White House in the past in these has tried to divert money to build this wall with Mexico, which is insanely stupid in my view,” he said. “Senator Portman and I are totally committed to getting the White House to move as quickly as possible,” Brown said.
Region has to meet ‘impact criteria’
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, according to FEMA.
Hospitals reported 385 injuries in the 10 counties impacted by the storm, 166 of those in Montgomery County alone.
Tornadoes also touched down in Auglaize, Darke, Greene, Hocking, Mercer, Miami, Muskingum, Perry, and Pickaway counties.
Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Small Business Administration, and Ohio Emergency Management Agency conducted a preliminary damage assessment which identified 942 homes and buildings that were either destroyed or significantly damaged and 837 additional homes and buildings that suffered minor damage or were slightly affected.
FEMA and the SBA made a joint preliminary damage assessment that was handed off to DeWine who request a Presidential Disaster Declaration, and President Trump would ultimately determine whether any federal assistance is granted.
Also last week, DeWine requested federal help for farmers unable to get into wet fields to plant. Only 50 percent of Ohio’s corn crop and 32 percent of Ohio’s soybean acres had been planted as of June 10, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In April, Trump approved a major disaster declaration for 20 counties primarily in the south and southeast part of the state to supplement state and local efforts in areas affected by April flooding and landslides.