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Stevens County included in request for federal disaster aid

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Stevens County included in request for federal disaster aid
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

MORRIS – Municipalities in Stevens County may be eligible for federal disaster relief to help recover from a major storm system that moved through the area in June.

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At a preliminary damage assessment on Wednesday, July 10, local representatives reported nearly $500,000 in damages from the storm. This information was combined with damage reported in other counties to prepare a request for a federal disaster declaration.

On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Dayton sent President Barack Obama a letter making the request for 18 counties that experienced flooding and storm damage June 20-26. The request comes after federal and state officials toured the storm-damaged area and totaled the nearly $18 million in damage.

Dayton told the president that in Benson, winds were equivalent to those of a small tornado.

“This persistent trending weather pattern brought multiple rounds of thunderstorms over several nights,” Dayton wrote. “For days, parts of the state were continuously under severe weather watches and warnings. Every night, thunderstorms formed and swept through the area with torrential rainfall and other severe weather, such as large hail and damaging winds.”

He told Obama about 5.6 inches of rain falling in Morris and 8.25 inches in Wolverton. He said some 48-hour rainfall totals equaled what could be expected once every 500 years.

At the peak of the problems, more than 600,000 homes were without power, the most in state history.

Dayton also mentioned extensive damage at the University of Minnesota Morris’ West Central Research and Outreach Center, where 77 mile per hour winds “destroyed cattle equipment, hoop barn roofs and doors, the campus skyway, fences and a trailer” and damaged other university facilities.

A request for a federal declaration starts at the local level. Counties assess storm or disaster damage in their area and report back to the state. The state then tracks the data and looks to see if a pattern of damage emerges.

“You can tell if the damages and the costs associated with the event are going to real a level that may be overwhelming for local communities,” said John Moore, a representative of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM).

If that is the case, representatives from HSEM and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) visit each of the affected areas to collect find out if damage estimates exceed specified local and state thresholds.

For this storm, the threshold in Stevens County was $33,554. The state threshold was $7.2 million, which was easily exceeded – townships, cities, counties, schools, and certain private not-for-profit organizations across the state reported $17.8 million in costs and damages for uninsured and eligible storm-related damage to public infrastructure.

Funds could be used for debris removal; emergency protective services; and repair or replacement of storm-damaged roads and bridges, water control facilities, buildings and equipment, municipal utilities and parks and recreational facilities.

In Stevens County, municipalities estimated about $150,000 for debris removal from roads, $122,000 for emergency protective measures as a result of loss of electricity, $120,000 for washed out roadways and culverts and $104,000 for damage to buildings and property.

If a major disaster is declared, Washington will cover 75 percent of approved costs. State and local governments will be responsible for the remaining 25 percent. Damage to most private property would not be covered.

Moore said the disaster determination must be made with 30 days, but recently has been made in between 10 and 20 days.

If a major disaster is declared, HSEM and FEMA will return to Stevens County the week of Aug. 5 to gather more information, said Dona Greiner, Stevens County Emergency Management Director.

Don Davis of Forum News Service contributed to this story.

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Kim Ukura
Kim Ukura has served as the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune since August 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 2008 with degrees in English and journalism. She earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010. Prior to returning to Morris to work at the Sun Tribune, she worked in trade publishing. She has been recognized by the Minnesota Newspaper Association for both business and public affairs reporting. 
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