PIERRE, S.D. (KELO AM) – With the federal shutdown ended, state, local and FEMA officials are moving quickly to conduct preliminary assessments of damage from the early-October blizzard, Gov. Dennis Daugaard said today.
The damage assessments will begin Oct. 28 and will cover 15 storm-impacted counties and two Indian reservations.
Immediately after the blizzard struck western South Dakota on Oct.4, Gov. Daugaard directed the State Office of Emergency Management (OEM) staff to work closely with local and tribal officials to keep track of costs, document damages and keep all records in preparation for what is called a preliminary damage assessment (PDA). That assessment is an essential step toward seeking and receiving a presidential disaster declaration, Gov. Daugaard said.
“The federal shutdown kept FEMA staff members from their offices during that early period, but I was determined it would not stop the state from being absolutely prepared to seek a disaster declaration the moment that became possible,’ Gov. Daugaard said. “South Dakota found a way to keep Mount Rushmore open during the shutdown. We used the same resolve to carry on with every step we could take to be ready for preliminary damage assessments as soon as FEMA was able to participate.’’
The blizzard dumped record amounts of snow in parts of the Black Hills, closed interstates and blocked many other roads, left thousands of homes and businesses without power and killed thousands of cattle and other livestock on ranches across a wide area of western South Dakota.
The preliminary damage assessments are conducted by teams of local, state and FEMA officials. The assessments include damage to all public infrastructure and to property of private, non-profit entities including the rural electric cooperatives. The Governor uses the results of the PDAs to determine whether a request for a presidential disaster declaration is warranted.
If the President grants such a request, 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.
Besides the damage to public infrastructure, storm costs include the expenses incurred by the state for its work in responding to and recovering from the blizzard. State resources directed to the storm have included:
· South Dakota National Guard provided soldiers and heavy equipment including trucks, bulldozers, a snow blower and loaders, to assist in snow removal and to help rural electric crews reach and repair downed lines.
· Game, Fish and Parks coordinated with Civil Air Patrol for missions over the Black Hills to check on possible lost hunters in the storm.
· Three staff members from the Office of Emergency Management to Custer, Lawrence, Meade and Butte counties and one staffer to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation were provided to help answer disaster-related questions.
· Four IMAT (Incident Management Assistance Team) members through OEM to help Pennington County staff its Emergency Operations Center functions.
· OEM staff has reached out to potential disaster declaration applicants to provide direction on documenting costs, hiring contractors and following FEMA guidelines.
· OEM also directed Civil Air Patrol missions to locate dead cattle along state rights-of-way and contracted with a rendering company for removal of those carcasses.
· OEM worked with state and national VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) groups to provide many types of volunteer assistance, including shelters, meals, and debris clean-up and tree removal.
· Department of Transportation provided blowers, loaders with grapplers and trucks for debris clean-up.
· Wildland Fire Suppression provided Sno Cat for emergency work during blizzard, and Black Hat and Bear Mountain hand crews to assist with debris clean-up.
· Corrections provided chainsaw crews to assist communities with debris clean-up. By the time those crews have completed their assignments, they will have invested about 6,000 hours of work into the blizzard recovery in several communities in the Black Hills area.