COLUMBIA, Mo. -- An army of workers in dump trucks, skip loaders, backhoes, knuckle boom trucks and other equipment is scouring disaster-struck Missouri, clearing and disposing of more than 3 million cubic yards of debris left by the ice storms that hammered the state in this winter.
After any natural disaster, debris removal is one of the biggest recovery tasks - clearing, removing and disposing of items like trees, parts of buildings, wreckage, vehicles, personal property, dirt and mud. After ice storms like those that struck Missouri, most of the debris is vegetative. One of the first steps to recovery is getting that material out of the way so life can get back to normal.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimburses state and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations 75 percent of eligible debris removal costs. The requirements are that the damage is the direct result of the disaster and is not covered by insurance; and that removal will eliminate threats to lives, public health and safety, threats of additional damage, or ensure the economic recovery of the affected communities.
While FEMA reimburses most eligible disaster recovery costs, actually carrying out programs like debris removal usually falls to the state and local agencies.
Local officials must identify, document and justify disaster-related expenses. Local jurisdictions may contract for debris removal beyond their own capability, but FEMA and the state are not parties to the contract nor responsible for their completion. FEMA and the state do NOT approve contracts or contractors.
Generally contracts are competitively bid, awarded to the best bidder (preference is given to local firms), and monitored to ensure the debris is disaster-related and properly measured.
The local jurisdiction signs a contract with a firm, then works with FEMA to prepare a project worksheet documenting its expenses. FEMA reviews the request and determines what work is eligible, then obligates the federal share of the eligible funds to the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). When applicants incur costs, they submit their invoices to the state for reimbursement.
As of March 12, FEMA has obligated $1,661,061 for debris removal and emergency protective measures for the January 12-22 disaster, in which 38 counties and the city of St. Louis were designated. For the November-December disaster, in which 13 counties and St. Louis were designated, FEMA has obligated $1,170,030.
Local agencies have six months to complete debris cleanup, starting with the date of the federal disaster declaration. The first ice storm declaration was December 29, and the second was January 15, meaning the cleanup for both must be complete by early summer. Disaster recovery work is spread among nearly 600 jurisdictions.
FEMA manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident, initiates mitigation activities and manages the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA works closely with state and local emergency managers, law enforcement personnel, firefighters and other first responders. FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.