President Obama issued a major disaster declaration for three South Jersey counties that suffered damage in the June 30 thunderstorms that devastated parts of the area with hurricane-force straight-line winds and extreme lightning.
The declaration signed Thursday provides for financial assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Atlantic, Cumberland and Salem counties, which were listed in the request sent by acting Gov. Kim Guadagno on July 11.
County emergency management directors clarified that this declaration affects public entities and municipalities, not individual homeowners and businesses. A separate declaration for assistance to individuals is being reviewed, although directors differed as to when it might be expected.
Guadagno’s request stated that the three counties suffered more than $17 million in damages from the storm, including $10.2 million in debris removal in Atlantic County.
More than 206,000 Atlantic City Electric customers lost power at the peak of the storm, with the majority of those outages in Atlantic and Cumberland counties. The storm, which was called a “super derecho” by the National Weather Service, lasted more than a half-hour in places, causing thousands of trees and branches to fall, along with hundreds of power poles.
The National Weather Service said this week that a peak wind gust at Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township was recorded at 87 mph, along with an 81 mph gust in Tuckerton.
The declaration came after a series of meetings among local, state and federal officials to determine eligibility, damage assessments and the estimated costs of repair and cleanup in several categories, including “Debris removal, Emergency protective measures, Road systems and bridges, water control facilities, public buildings and contents, public utilities, (and) parks,” stated Jason Galanes, a spokesman for Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd).
“There’s already been preliminary damage assessments,” said Cumberland County Emergency Management Director James Matlock. “We know what damage has been done. The next step is for FEMA to deploy. It’s a matter of working with FEMA to go over the numbers.”
In Atlantic County, all 23 municipalities have suffered damage and will be applying for assistance, county Emergency Management Director Vince Jones said.
“The biggest thing right now is debris clean-up,” Jones said. “It will also be assisting municipalities and those allied authorities with reimbursement to offset costs ... for emergency work and to repair and replace damaged facilities.”
Matlock and Jones stressed that the declaration that would reimburse individuals has not yet been signed, though they differed slightly as to when it might be expected.
“They’re reviewing that right now,” Jones said. “We’re hoping it may be (signed) in the next day or two.”
Matlock, though, added that “When they say it’s under review, then ‘It’s under review.’ Thresholds have to be met. FEMA is crunching numbers, and they’re the ones who make a recommendation to the president.”
Galanes also said that further aid might be forthcoming through the Governor’s Office, including the Small Business Administration. A spokesman for Governor Chris Christie could not be reached for comment.
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