Governor appeals to Chertoff for disaster relief

John Ford

Gov. Matt Blunt has again petitioned the federal government to provide public disaster assistance to Newton, Jasper and Barry counties for disaster cleanup related to the May 10 tornado.

In a letter dated last Thursday to Michael Chertoff, director of homeland security, Blunt said he was concerned that the state’s initial request and subsequent appeal were denied solely because Missouri did not meet the per capita indicator directed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The federal Stafford Act, a 1988 amendment to the act that governs federal disaster assistance, prohibits the federal government from denying assistance based on an arithmetic formula or sliding scale of income or population. Yet, the governor said in his letter, the per capita indicator was the only area in which this disaster didn’t meet FEMA’s pre-established disaster consideration factors.

“Residents of these small communities want to rebuild and start anew,” the governor wrote. “Having observed and discussed the effects of these tornadoes, I know you appreciate the enormity of the task at hand. For this reason, I ask that you ensure that our initial public assistance request and our appeal were given appropriate consideration, beyond just the state per capita indicator. In seeking to ensure that every possible recovery resource is examined and exhausted to facilitate recovery, I ask that you re-examine our public assistance request to make available much needed recovery resources.”

Gary Roark, Newton County’s director of emergency management, said the county is in a holding pattern regarding debris removal until a decision is finalized. If no federal relief is forthcoming, he said the county may have to tackle the task on its own, although it lacks the funds to do so.

“We want to take care of this debris,” Roark said. “We’re looking at $4 million to $5 million. That’s beyond the capacity of the county to take care of it. It’s an overwhelming amount — that’s what it amounts to. The county just doesn’t have it. It’s important to get this approval by FEMA or the director of homeland security.

“In all honesty, we just don’t have a good solution right now. It’s one of those deals where there’s not a whole lot we can do at this time.”

In addition to Gov. Blunt, Roark said he has been in contact with Seventh District Congressman Roy Blunt, as well as U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill and Christopher S. “Kit” Bond, to push for the federal disaster assistance.

“Hopefully, with all four of them pushing for it, something positive will come from all of this,” he said.

The May 10 tornado destroyed hundreds of homes and claimed 14 lives in Newton County.

Neosho Daily News