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Gov. Daugaard Seeks Disaster Declaration For West River Blizzard

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Satellite image of the Atlas Blizzard that devastated Western South Dakota in early October.  (Wikimedia.org)
Satellite image of the Atlas Blizzard that devastated Western South Dakota in early October. (Wikimedia.org)

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO AM) – Gov. Dennis Daugaard today requested a Presidential Disaster Declaration to help 14 counties and two Indian reservations recover from a powerful early-October blizzard in western South Dakota.

The request is for public assistance in those west-river counties, snow removal assistance in six counties with record snowfalls, debris removal and disaster unemployment assistance.

Teams of state, local and FEMA officials conducted preliminary damage assessments in the storm-impacted area beginning Monday, Oct. 28. Those assessments showed a preliminary estimate of nearly $38 million in damages to public infrastructure and property of private, non-profit entities. If a presidential disaster declaration is granted, a more detailed assessment of costs will begin.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, the Governor noted that the storm began with heavy rainfall in the Black Hills area. The rain changed to snow, and the winds increased to as much as 65-70 mph in some areas of the western plains. Record snowfalls were recorded in Butte, Custer, Fall River, Lawrence, Meade and Pennington counties. Nearly 50,000 customers were without power for a period of time and no travel was advised across more than half the state.

“As the severe winter storm was occurring, a vast majority of western South Dakota was literally shut down for four days,’’ Gov. Daugaard wrote.

The first storm with heavy snow and high winds struck on Oct. 3. A second storm that started on Oct. 10 brought more rain where deep snow was already melting. That resulted in flash flooding in some areas. Thousands of head of cattle and other livestock were lost during the two-week-long storm event.

“As you can imagine, this has not only taken a financial toll on the ranching community but also an emotional toll,’’ the Governor wrote. “Ranchers are a very hardy, proud and self-reliant group of people, but sometimes they need assistance as well to ensure their well-being today and for the future of their ranching operation.’’

He said disaster unemployment assistance could help ranchers who have no income because of the loss of livestock, as well as other self-employed individuals who assist livestock producers.

Today’s request is a necessary step for federal disaster funds to be made available to South Dakota. If the President grants the declaration, up to 75 percent of eligible costs could be reimbursed by the federal government. The Governor’s request does not guarantee federal funding will be made available to South Dakota.

Counties included in the disaster request are Butte, Corson, Custer, Dewey, Fall River, Haakon, Harding, Jackson, Lawrence, Meade, Pennington, Perkins, Shannon and Ziebach, as well as the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

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