Damage in tens of millions from winter storm
COLUMBIA - The damage tally from the February winter storm that left South Carolina coated in ice and buried in snow is more than $100 million so far, and the state is expected to qualify as a federal disaster area.
Initial estimates of the damage and cleanup costs from the Feb. 11-13 storm, considered the worst in a decade, are at least $120 million.
The storm left behind as much as an inch of ice that snapped trees and branches across a wide swath of the state and dumped up to 8 inches of snow in the Upstate. At one point it cut power to 350,000 electric customers.
Derrec Becker of the state Emergency Management Division says officials are "fairly confident" damage totals will allow the state and local governments to qualify for a designation as a disaster area and get federal help to recover some of the costs of dealing with the storm and its aftermath.
Once the damage totals are computed, Gov. Nikki Haley will have 30 days to ask President Barack Obama for a disaster declaration. If declared, it would be the first in the state in almost a decade. The last was for a 2005 ice storm in the Upstate.
Becker said the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses a complicated formula for assessing storm damage and costs for state and county governments.
"Most counties have exceeded the threshold," he said. The costs can include the direct costs of responding to the emergency such as plowing roads, the cost of debris cleanup after the storm and any uninsured damage to infrastructure. The state threshold is $6.4 million, he said.
The $120 million initial estimate also includes private insurance claims and widespread damage to the state's woodlands. Forestry workers have been doing aerial surveys and visiting woodlands assessing the damages for almost two weeks.
A final figure is expected early next week, but the staff of the South Carolina Forestry Commission feels the number will surpass the nearly $100 million of the severe ice storm of 2004, said commission spokesman Scott Hawkins.
State residents filed an estimated $15 million in damage claims to insurance companies because of the February storm, said Russ Dubisky, executive director of the South Carolina Insurance News Service, a nonprofit funded by insurance companies that do business in the state.
Standard homeowner policies cover such things as burst pipes and ice damage, and optional collision-comprehensive auto coverage can cover storm damages to vehicles.
The State Department of Transportation has contracted with more than 300 crews to clear debris from the state's highways.
At midweek, almost 160 miles of highway in 19 counties had been cleaned. That includes the removal of almost 30,000 trees that were bent over highways or had low-hanging branches over roads. The department said the work could take more than a month.
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