OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- Communities with piles of fallen trees, branches and other debris remaining from the December blizzard and/or January ice storm are encouraged to move forward with their cleanup operations, federal and state disaster recovery officials said Thursday.
"Some communities had massive amounts of debris, and we’re advising them to go ahead and get the cleanup work done," said Gregory W. Eaton, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) federal coordinating officer for the disasters.
"It's important to understand that FEMA considers debris removal 'emergency work'," said Fred Liebe, state coordinating officer for the disasters. "Affected communities should document their cleanup operations and their costs, and the state of Oklahoma and FEMA will work with them to ensure their eligible expenses are reimbursed as soon as possible."
The presidential disaster declarations for the Dec. 24-25, 2009, blizzard and the Jan. 28-30, 2010, ice storm made federal Public Assistance grants available to eligible applicants in 54 counties and 49 counties, respectively. Those totals include the counties added this week to the disaster declarations. Forty-one counties are designated for assistance under both disaster declarations.
Under the Public Assistance (PA) Grant Program, FEMA reimburses the state and state agencies, cities, counties, tribal governments and certain nonprofit organizations 75 percent of their costs for eligible debris removal, with the state and the applicant dividing the remaining 25 percent.
Eaton and Liebe noted that reimbursements for debris cleanup expenses include work done to remove private-property debris that has been moved to a public right of way. For the public safety, those rights of way should be cleared as soon as possible, they added. In fact, any piled-up debris should be removed.
State and FEMA Public Assistance specialists working with the state agencies and local governments since the storms have provided potential applicants with FEMA’s Debris Management Guide as well as fact sheets that outline eligibility criteria and applicants’ obligations to complete the work in a timely manner. Typically, the guide says, the debris-removal phase of recovery begins after emergency access routes are cleared.
To be eligible for reimbursement, debris collection must be in the public interest, which includes work necessary to:
• Eliminate immediate threats to life, public health and safety;
• Eliminate immediate threats of significant damage to improved public or private property; or
• Ensure economic recovery of the affected community to the benefit of the community at large.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.