Presidential declaration clears path for debris removal, aid for local residents

From Staff Reports

Greene County officials are hoping to kick debris removal efforts related to Hurricane Zeta into high gear now that President Trump has finally approved a Federal Disaster Declaration in response to the storm.

Zeta ripped through the area in late October, causing damage in some areas comparable to that of Hurricane Katrina some 15 years earlier. Many local homes and business sustained damage or were destroyed by Hurricane Zeta, but the biggest problem remaining for local residents two months after the storm hit the area is the vast amount of storm debris.

County and municipal officials in Greene County were anxious to start debris removal in early November, but were hoping for federal assistance in that process and had been waiting on word from Washington D.C. regarding that aid. That word came on New Year’s Day as the Trump administration officially approved Gov. Tate Reeves’ request for federal help following Zeta.

The presidential declaration mandates federal aid to help South Mississippi counties and municipalities recover from the storm. In George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Perry, Stone and Wayne counties, officials can now tap into public assistance to help cover emergency work and repairs or replacement of public facilities the storm damaged. The presidential declaration also opens up funding for repairs of storm damage suffered by residents and business owners in George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson and Stone counties, allowing federal funds and low-interest loans.

The Greene County Board of Supervisors welcomed the news Monday morning during their first meeting of the new year. County leaders moved quickly to approve an independent contractor agreement with DebrisTech LLC to provide monitoring services associated with Hurricane Zeta recovery efforts. They also approved for DebrisTech to perform a debris volume analysis and prepare a bid package for interested debris contractors and to assist County Engineer Jason Lamb in getting multiple temporary disposal sites identified and permitted by state officials. Lamb said he hopes to be able to begin advertising for bids for debris removal next week.

Greene County Emergency Management Director Trent Robertson, who worked with state disaster officials on the preliminary damage reports for the disaster relief request, said the Presidential Declaration is a major step in the right direction. However, Robertson warned that debris cleanup will still take some time to complete.

“Now that we have the disaster declaration we know that we can count on getting federal funding to assist with the cleanup,” Robertson said Tuesday. “It is just going to take a little time to get everything set up properly to meet the federal guidelines.”

While the county is guaranteed to receive assistance for public projects such as debris cleanup, local taxpayers will still be on the hook for a share of those costs. Supervisors know they will have to match 12.5 percent of the total cost of public projects under the disaster declaration. Based on rough estimates of the volume of the debris, the county’s share could be in the neighborhood of $250,000 or more.

Similar efforts after Katrina cost millions of dollars. County leaders at that time had to borrow money to cover the county’s share of the recovery costs and annual payments on that note are ongoing and will continue for several more years.

Gov. Reeves tweeted New Year’s morning about the disaster declaration, which residents and government officials have anxiously awaited. Alabama counties received a federal disaster declaration Dec. 10 for Zeta damage.

Reeves thanked the president, saying, “Homeowners, local governments, and business owners in the declared counties can start the new year rebuilding from this storm.”
Hurricane Zeta made landfall Oct. 28 with 8 feet of storm surge and wind gusts of up to 100 mph. Parts of Greene County were hit hard in the storm. In all, 224 residences were damaged with seven being completely destroyed and 41 receiving major damage. There was also extensive damage to timber across the county.

By Nov. 25, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) had documented $10 million in damage to individual homes and $79 million in damage to public infrastructure.
Homeowners and renters who suffered damage from Hurricane Zeta can apply to FEMA for federal disaster assistance. Survivors may be eligible to receive assistance for uninsured and underinsured damage and losses resulting from the hurricane. Assistance available to individuals and businesses will include temporary housing and home-repair grants, loans for uninsured property losses, and other programs. More relief may be provided if warranted as the result of future damage assessments, the news release said.

Residents and business owners with Zeta losses in designated counties can register for FEMA disaster assistance online by visiting DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling (800)621-3362. Persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability and use a TTY may call (800)462-7585. Multilingual operators are available. Lines are open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight Central Time.

The following information will be required when applying for assistance:
• A current phone number where you can be contacted;
• Your address at the time of the disaster and the address where you are now staying;
• Your Social Security number, if available;
• A general list of damages and losses; and
• If insured, the insurance policy number, or the agent and company name.

Long-term, low-interest disaster loans for homeowners, renters, businesses and non-profit organizations from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are available to cover losses not fully compensated by insurance and other sources.

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