FEMA doesn't think bayou devastation enough for federal disaster
BATON ROUGE - The federal government denied the state's appeal for federal disaster assistance in areas recovering from tornadoes that tore apart bayou communities in February.
FEMA said there was not enough wide-spread damage to force a disaster area, which makes federal assistance available for individual, business and government recovery. Among the areas requested to declared a disaster area was Assumption Parish where an EF3 destroyed homes and businesses. There are only two levels of more powerful tornadoes: EF 4 and EF5.
“We wanted to make every effort to get federal assistance for those impacted by this event,” said Governor Edwards. “We felt the scope of their damage and recovery also overwhelmed the capacity of State and local resources. Unfortunately, FEMA did not agree with our assessment. Additionally, we felt a major disaster was necessary because of two other recent emergencies and to help us prepare for the start of the 2016 hurricane season.”
According to the National Weather Service, the 13 tornadoes recorded across the southeastern part of Louisiana on February 23, 2016, marked the most tornadic activity ever recorded in such a short period of time in Louisiana.
In Paincourtville after the storm system passed, people recounted survival stories as a tornado moved through the town.
"Everything was shaking. The ceilings came down down; I had no where to go," eyewitness David Blount said. "I get the chills just thinking about it, since it happened I can't stop thinking about it."
Security video showed how people narrowly escaped being sucked into the sky by the tornado. Among them, was delivery driver Kyra Johnson who took shelter behind a soda machine as the tornado spun by Sagona's True Value Hardware.
"I could have been blown, ripped away.. but nothing, nothing touched me," Johnson said. "I just said God what do I do what do I do, so I grabbed onto the door and that's where I was standing until it finally stopped," Johsnon said as she describes how she positioned herself to survive.
On the other side of the river, the twister was deadly. In St. James, two people died and thirty were hurt when the storm system hit the Sugar Hill RV Park. Trailers were tossed like toys.
"It's a jumbled mess," Governor Edwards said of the scene when he visited the areas after the storm. "It's a minor miracle only two people died."
In the days that followed the storm, video showed countless buildings had been leveled. From above, via the lens of WBRZ's SkyEye2 helicopter crew, the damage was shown to be catastrophic. But, FEMA said it was not enough.
"We reaffirm our original findings that the impact from this event is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster area," FEMA wrote to the governor. "Your appeal for a major disaster declaration is denied."
Louisiana has suffered two other major natural disasters since January. Monday, officials said they will request that the Small Business Administration issue an administrative declaration to provide that agency’s support to individuals and businesses within the impacted parishes. The SBA is the federal government’s primary source of money for the long-term rebuilding of disaster-damaged private property, offering low-interest disaster assistance loans to businesses of all sizes, private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters.
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