The federal government has refused aid to South Jersey homeowners despite declaring a disaster after a June 30 storm caused widespread damage and power outages.
Atlantic County will appeal the decision. county Office of Emergency Management Director Vince Jones Thursday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency informed the county Tuesday - three weeks after the agency made the original decision, Jones said.
“Some people went seven days without (electricity). You figure they lost food, their electrical systems malfunctioned and had to be replaced. They spent a lot of money. So we’re hoping FEMA … reconsiders what took place here, and the damages and the costs,” Jones said.
Public agencies in Atlantic, Cumberland and Salem counties will still get money to offset costs for police, fire and public works personnel to clean up debris and handle safety issues caused by the storm, according to FEMA’s website.
Private property owners, however, will not, the website states.
“FEMA has been a good agency to deal with, particularly with Hurricane Irene and other severe weather events, in terms of both public and individual damage assistance. Unfortunately, and regrettably, this decision did not go our way since the damage did not meet thresholds established by FEMA and the federal government,” said Kevin Roberts, spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie c.
Initial damage estimates approached $18 million in Atlantic County. Jones thinks actual costs will be at least 50 percent more. Officials will have a more precise figure next week when they total resident spending submitted online, he said.
“It’s not uncommon in a disaster situation that you’ll find damage to homes two or three weeks after a disaster incident occurs. Right now, we’re going to evaluate our options and figure out a strategy to get assistance to the people who were impacted,” said Mary Goepfert, spokeswoman for the state Office of Emergency Management.
The state has not decided whether to file an appeal of FEMA’s decision, said Goepfert, adding that the state filed its application on behalf of affected areas quickly and completely.
“We’re working with the counties to determine ... what hasn’t been reported,” she said. “If we appeal, we’ll certainly announce that.”
Although President Obama declared a major disaster zone throughout Atlantic, Cumberland and Salem counties July 10, that did not guarantee federal aid.
Once that declaration happens, FEMA workers survey the area. Their reports contribute to the decision.
In the past, FEMA has refused aid to individual property owners because the agency’s surveyors determined local damage just wasn’t bad enough, Jones said.
But the "super derecho" – as the National Weather Service called the June 30 storm with peak winds of 85 miles per hour – caused the worst damage Jones said he’s seen during his 27-year tenure.
FEMA did not explain their decision to Jones, or why they waited to tell him about it. The agency’s website also did not list a reason and representatives did not return calls Thursday.
Cumberland County Public Safety Director James Matlock said he didn’t know about FEMA’s decision - made July 19 - until The Press of Atlantic City asked him about Thursday.