FEMA, local officials begin flood damage assessment

South Dakota residents with flood-damaged homes and businesses may soon find out if they will be eligible to receive funding through the Federal Emergency�s Management Agency (FEMA) program.

On Monday, June 27, three teams consisting of federal, state and local officials began touring homes and businesses in 10 counties � including Clay and Yankton counties � to determine if assistance could be made through FEMA�s Individual Assistance program.

Assessment is the first step in the process, said Kristi Turman, director of the South Dakota Office of Emergency Management.

�Once this assessment is done, we will take a look at the information on a state level and determine if we have a need to request that program,� Turman said. �The governor would make that request, and it would be forwarded up to FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC.�

If the president approves the request, then the program will be made available to residents whose primary homes have been severely impacted by the flooding, she said.

Layne Stewart, director of Clay County Emergency Management, stressed that the assessments are not considering minor damages.

�It�s not looking at water in basements, it�s looking at water on the main level,� he said.

According to Stewart, Clay County has �four, possibly five homes with water in them.�

There are also a couple of homes whose supports are weakening, he said, adding that homes that are yet undamaged will not be part of the assessment.

�The important thing to note with Individual Assistance is that it�s certainly not a program that�s intended to make people whole,� Turman said. �The maximum amount that any household can receive is $30,000, and that is for all the programs within Individual Assistance. It can be for rental assistance, home repair, crisis counseling, disaster unemployment � there are several different programs within Individual Assistance.�

Turman added that the average payment received is usually �much lower� than $30,000.

Each Preliminary Damage Assessment team includes a specialist from the South Dakota Office of Emergency Management, FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration and a local government official most familiar with flood damages to homes and businesses in each county.

Qualification will be based in part on the extent of the damages, rather than the number of homes damaged, Turman said.

�The federal regulations speak to several different areas. It�s much more subjective than the public assistance side of things, where you have to have the $1 million in damage,� she said.

Furthermore, the damage assessments are not a guarantee that there will be a designation of Individual Assistance. Although teams may visit private residences, that does not mean residents have registered with FEMA, or that the provision of assistance is forthcoming.

Leo Powell, chair of the Clay County Commission, said Clay County faces an issue in terms of damage, repair and prevention that some other counties do not.

�The thing with Clay County that didn�t exist in Yankton and Union is that everything in Clay was private property, where in Yankton and Union counties there was private property intermixed with public utilities, public services like water treatment and sewer,� he said.

Stewart explained, �Because it�s private property, the county cannot go in and do anything.�

However, the county has assisted in other ways, such as acquiring sand and bags for volunteers to fill, and Powell said he�s looking into getting more.

Additionally, Stewart provides updates on the county�s emergency management Web site, and Powell said crews fly the shoreline each week to monitor the water level and erosion.

Many residents have taken it upon themselves to keep floodwaters from encroaching on their homes, although their methods may not meet with government approval.

Powell said that at a recent meeting with representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Clay County Park, the people were told that if they were using anything other than round rock to stop the flooding it would have to be removed.

Powell cited some of the work at the Ponderosa as an example of what would be included in that removal.

�To get that in there and start to breathe easier thinking, that your home is going to be safe, then a bureaucrat tells you you�ll have to take it out, that was rather annoying,� he said.

Eric Nelson from Sen. Tim Johnson�s office toured the damaged areas recently, during which time Powell explained the situation.

�I asked if he would have Tim discuss with the powers that be, the federal agencies, to at least be considerate of the hardship that the people are going through down here,� he said.

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