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Pence to appeal FEMA's denial of flood recovery dollars

September 14, 2015

Gov. Mike Pence will appeal a recent decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deny Indiana's request for federal assistance following a barrage of severe summer storms that Pence's office says played a role in the deaths of 10 people.

The money would have helped pay for an estimated $11 million in infrastructure damage across 18 counties that resulted from the flooding and devastation brought when the series of storms blew across the state between early June and late July. The federal dollars would have paid for 75 percent of damaged infrastructure in those areas, including damage to roads, bridges, parks and water control facilities. The money could also be used to pay for debris removal and traffic control.

"Our local governments particularly need assistance," the Republican governor said Monday in a statement, adding that the federal dollars were needed to "help alleviate further burden on local taxpayers."

For the funding to be issued, FEMA needed to declare a "major disaster" had occurred, which the agency declined to do.

"It has been determined that the damage to the infrastructure from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments," FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate wrote in a response denying Pence's request. "We have determined that supplemental federal assistance is not necessary.

At issue is the way agency views the storms. FEMA determined the destruction was the result of two periods of extreme weather, not one continuous event.

"Federal law requires FEMA to consider singular events, and not seasons or multiple events over an extended period of time," FEMA spokeswoman Cassie Ringsdorf said in an email.

Because there was at least a 72-hour break in the storms, Indiana did not meet the requirements for a federal disaster declaration, Ringsdorf said.

Pence's office says that during the period in question, 10 people were killed as a result of the weather. They included 14-year-old Daniel Holbrook, of Winona Lake, who died after a tree fell on his family's mobile home on June 30, and 37-year-old. Travis Watkins, of Brown County, who died when trying to cross a flood-swollen creek to check on his grandmother. Others died after being swept away by rushing waters or when their vehicles were submerged, according to Pence's office.

John Erickson, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, said the state views the storms as one consistent weathers event.

"IDHS, along with National Weather Service offices in Indiana, believes the weather Indiana saw during most of June and July was the result of one persistent and destructive weather pattern," Erickson wrote in an email.

Indiana has less than a month to file an appeal.

Other federal agencies were not as reluctant as FEMA to issue assistance. In August, the Department of Agriculture declared Indiana a "disaster area," making farmers in 88 of Indiana's 92 counties are eligible for low-interest emergency loans to help them cope with weather damaged crops. The Small Business Administration also authorized the issuance of low-interest disaster loans for business and homeowners.

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