FEMA evaluating Winter Storm Pax damage

First Byline: 
Laura J. Mckenzie - Publisher

Barnwell County residents and property owners are starting to pile debris from Winter Storm Pax along their curbs but it may take a long time for that debris to be hauled away.
That is because county officials are going through the bureaucratic process to get federal money to pay for the cleanup. And that process may take weeks, even up to six months, to complete.
"FEMA has to view it, measure it, weigh it, calculate the dollars and go through the paperwork," said Derrec Becker, Public Information Coordinator for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD), at a community meeting held Sunday afternoon at Barnwell First Baptist Church.
Last week South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley first declared a state of emergency and then requested that President Barack Obama declare South Carolina a disaster area due to the impending Winter Storm Pax. On Feb. 10, the president signed that declaration which freed up money to help with recovery efforts.
"The President's action authorizes FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in all counties of the State of South Carolina," according to a FEMA statement.
"Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.  Emergency protective measures, limited to direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding."
Joe M. Girot has been named as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal response operations in the affected area.
When a disaster is declared, assistance is available under three categories - individual assistance, public assistance and hazard mitigation assistance, according to FEMA.
To qualify for the individual assistance, he said, there has to be over 100 totally uninsured homes totally destroyed during the event. "We don't have that situation," said Becker.
It is the "public assistance" category that local and state officials are pursuing, he said. "There had to be over a million cubic yards of debris to qualify. We are having no problem qualifying for that."
He said there are 13 counties in South Carolina that are each reporting over 250,000 cubic yards of debris.
Still, it is a "complicated and bureaucratic" process which will take time, cautioned Becker.
County officials need people to pile up the storm debris so that the FEMA assessment team can determine how big an effort the cleanup will be and how much money will be involved.
The payoff for those piles of debris combined with patience and paperwork will be the potential of federal money paying for the cleanup instead of the financial burden being borne by local and state governments.
"Through the Public Assistance Program, FEMA provides supplemental federal disaster grant assistance for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and the repair, replacement, or restoration of disaster-damaged, publicly owned facilities and the facilities of certain private non-profit organizations", according to the FEMA website.
FEMA personnel are already in Barnwell County, starting the assessment process, said Barnwell County Emergency Management Director Roger Riley. "We are waiting on them to make a determination," said Riley.
Residents are reminded to pile the debris along curbs but out of roadways, said Stan Holiday, resident engineer for the S.C. Department of Transportation. They are also strongly cautioned to not pile debris over fire hydrants or storm drains and to beware of power lines that may be tangled in the mess. "If there is a line there, assume it is dangerous," said Holiday. He thanked Barnwell County public works crews for their efforts.
DOT and public works crews are in the process of pushing debris off roads to the roadsides. "We're not cleaning it up, just pushing it out of the way right now," said Holiday. "We are trying to get the roads so an ambulance can get to someone if necessary."
Debris should not be taken to the county landfill, say officials.
Fire permits will not be approved in the City of Barnwell, said FD Chief Tony Dicks. It is unknown if fire permits will be allowed elsewhere.