August 20, 2018

Senators Schumer, Gillibrand Urge FEMA To Stand Ready To Quickly Approve Potential Disaster Declaration For Southern Tier And Finger Lakes Counties Impacted By Recent Flooding And Severe Weather

Senators Say Disaster Declaration Would Unlock Federal Funds for Impacted Counties Still Recovering From Intense Flooding; Schumer, Gillibrand To FEMA: Stand Ready To Approve Any Requested Aid For Rochester-Finger Lakes And Southern Tier Residents

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on Saturday urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to stand ready to quickly approve any request from New York State for a major disaster declaration following the severe thunderstorm and floods that battered counties across the Rochester-Finger Lakes region and the Southern Tier on August 14. During this thunderstorm, up to nine inches of rain fell in some areas over the span of a few hours, causing creeks and waterways to overflow that then swept down trees, roads, property and debris. Schumer and Gillibrand requested that FEMA stand ready to approve any forthcoming requests from the state for a disaster declaration for the fourteen Rochester-Finger Lakes and Southern Tier counties that were impacted by the storms. As communities across the two regions continue their recovery from this damaging flash flooding, the federal officials urged FEMA to be prepared to participate in a Preliminary Damage Assessment with state and local officials, should the state request it.

“Just last week, communities across the Rochester-Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions were ravaged by thunderstorms and flash flooding, and it is absolutely crucial that we get them the resources they need to recover,” said Senator Schumer. “FEMA needs to stand ready to swiftly approve any forthcoming requests from the state for assistance to help these communities recover and rebuild.”

“As communities throughout the Rochester-Finger Lakes and Southern Tier regions work to recover from last week’s severe weather, they need to be assured that the federal government will be ready to assist them if necessary,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Large regions of New York experienced extreme flooding, and I am calling on FEMA to be prepared to quickly provide support and resources to help minimize damage and expedite recovery time for these communities.”

If a disaster declaration is declared, grant assistance would be made available to state and local governments, as well as certain non-profit organizations, to reimburse costs incurred for emergency work and the repair or replacement of damaged facilities. This funding is available on a cost-sharing basis; FEMA generally covers 75 percent of the eligible costs for permanent and emergency work. After any severe storm, the first step in the declaration process is for the state to request a Preliminary Damage Assessment, during which FEMA representatives join state, local, and other officials to survey damage across storm-impacted counties to help determine whether the cost of the disaster meets the criteria for a federal disaster declaration. Schumer and Gillibrand urged FEMA Administrator Brock Long to be prepared to support any requests for aid from New York State.

A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter to FEMA appears below:

Dear Administrator Long:

We write in strong support of communities across a 14 country region in the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier region of New York State affected by recent severe weather. We urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to stand ready to work with affected counties and New York State, if requested, to determine whether damage meets the statutory threshold for FEMA disaster assistance, and if it does, to make assistance available as expeditiously as possible.

On August 14th,  a severe thunderstorm inundated this 14-county area with heavy rain downpours causing damaging flash flooding.  Up to 9 inches of rain fell in some areas over a span of just a few hours, causing creeks and waterways to overflow that then swept down trees, roads, property and debris.  In several low-lying areas, the floodwaters and debris severely damaged homes, including some areas where cottages, trailers, and other structures were washed into Seneca Lake.  During the storm, first responders performed rescues for 62 people trapped in the flood waters.  Reported damages include eroded asphalt roads, fallen bridges and culverts, downed power lines, and damaged or destroyed structures.  Damage totals are likely to increase as the mud, downed trees, and debris that now cover many roads and areas is removed away. 

In Broome County flash flooding caused mandatory evacuations in parts of the county, resulted in the closure of over 30 roadways, with many rendered impassable, stranding residents until waters receded. Particularly hard hit were the towns of Conklin, Kirkwood and Vestal where the cost of extensive damage to homes, and infrastructure including the washout of a newly installed covered bridge in Kirkwood are still being tabulated. 

In the storm’s aftermath Schuyler County faces, in addition to property and infrastructure damage, the cleanup and removal of debris much atypical of storm activity, including concrete and propane tanks that have washed into Seneca Lake, far exceeding the resources of this municipality. 

As communities across the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier continue their recovery from this unexpected and unprecedented storm, we urge FEMA to stand ready to participate in a Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) with state and local officials, should the state request it.

We are grateful for the prompt attention that the federal government has historically given in responding to disasters impacting New York State. In that spirit, we strongly urge you to approve any forthcoming requests for FEMA assistance from New York State as affected communities begin their recovery from these severe storms.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

Kirsten Gillibrand