CORDELE, Ga. -- A legion of workers with dump trucks, skip loaders, backhoes, knuckle boom trucks, chain saws, and raw muscle power is scouring the counties and localities hit by the severe storms and tornadoes of March 1-2 and removing mountains of debris.
“The number and variety of state and local agencies, organizations, businesses and volunteers pitching in to help on this disaster is very impressive,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Michael Bolch, in charge of federal disaster recovery operations in the affected area for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management (FEMA). “For example, I understand that several construction firms stopped what they were doing and came to the aid of local communities with their equipment and manpower at no cost to those communities.”
After any natural disaster, debris removal is one of the most immediate recovery tasks - clearing, removing and disposing of items such as trees, parts of buildings, wreckage, vehicles, personal property, dirt and mud. After storms and tornadoes, most of the debris is from vegetation. A first step to recovery is getting that material out of the way so life can get back to normal.
“Because governments aren’t allowed to remove debris from private property, individual residents are on their own in terms to get debris cut up and placed curbside for pickup. That’s where volunteers are being extremely helpful, working at no charge to local residents,” said State Coordinating Officer Charley English, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).
FEMA reimburses state and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations 75 percent of eligible debris removal costs. Damage must be a direct result of the disaster, not be covered by insurance and eliminate threats to lives and property.
While FEMA reimburses most eligible disaster recovery costs, 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.
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 negotiates a contract that will be eligible for FEMA reimbursement, signs a contract with a firm, and then works with FEMA to prepare a project worksheet documenting its expenses. FEMA then obligates the federal share of the eligible funds to GEMA, which administers the program.
At this time, debris removal is in process and the process of documenting the costs and preparing project worksheets is underway. FEMA officials estimate that the obligation of federal funds to reimburse state and local governments will begin as early as next week.
Twelve Georgia counties have been authorized to receive Public Assistance, which includes funds for debris removal: Baker, Clay, Crawford, McDuffie, Mitchell, Muscogee, Stewart, Sumter, Taylor, Warren, Webster, and Wilkinson.
Local agencies initially have six months from the date of the disaster declaration to complete the work, in this case, by early August. Disaster recovery work is spread among multiple jurisdictions. For more information about the Public Assistance program, visit FEMA's website, www.fema.gov or GEMA's website, www.gema.state.ga.us.
FEMA manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident, initiates mitigation activities and manages the National Flood Insurance Program....