Friday, Jan 25, 2013
Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Disaster Assistance
It’s been one month since the historic Christmas storm wreaked havoc on parts of Arkansas. In the weeks since the ice and heavy snow brought parts of the State to a standstill, local, state and federal officials have been surveying the damage and clean-up efforts. The cost of that response, most of it involving the removal of downed trees and other debris, is now estimated to exceed $9 million. To help state and local agencies recover expenses incurred during storm response, I sent President Obama a letter this week. I requested a major disaster declaration for the following seven counties: Garland, Grant, Hot Spring, Lonoke, Perry, Pulaski and Saline.
Arkansas’s request for assistance will now be considered by federal officials. We’ve had FEMA teams on the ground with our own emergency-management personnel doing detailed assessments the past few weeks. And we’re confident that the federal government now has all the first-hand information they need to consider our request and give us a timely response. We are glad to have this cooperative effort between state and federal emergency agencies, because it hasn’t always worked this well in the past.
Shortly after I first took office 2007, a tornado devastated the town of Dumas in Southeast Arkansas. After a brief conversation with FEMA officials, we heard very little back about federal assistance, and the messages we did receive were mixed. I was not shy in voicing my displeasure about how Washington had treated Arkansas after this disaster, and how hard it had been to obtain what should have been simple answers.
After Dumas, our relationship with FEMA began to improve. It’s a good thing, too, because since 2008, Arkansas has been overwhelmed by an abundance of disasters. During the past five years, there have been 12 presidentially-declared disasters in the State and many other state-declared disasters. Whether it has been historic flooding, ice storms, deadly tornadoes or wildfires, Arkansas has seen more than its fair share of damaging weather conditions. Including the Christmas storm, five state disasters have been declared in the last 12 months, while the sixth disaster is now being considered for assistance in Washington.
As we all remember, the severe winter storm that struck on Christmas brought unprecedented snow and ice to parts of Arkansas. Several snowfall records were broken, and icy roads created treacherous and sometimes fatal driving conditions. More than 260,000 power outages were reported around the State, with some homes remaining dark for a week or more.
The recovery from this storm continues, and costs are still mounting for our cities and counties. We hope that the federal government will grant our request for assistance, and we expect a response from them soon. What is never in question is Arkansas’s ability to continually recover from these disasters, and to help each other as needed. The year 2013 is still new, and we will likely face more disasters in the months ahead. Our spirit of community and perseverance will continue to keep Arkansas strong, regardless of the challenges Mother Nature presents.