AUSTIN, Texas -- As spring arrives in the Lone Star State, recovery from the historic wildfires of late summer 2011 is well under way. There is still work to be done, but the diligent efforts of thousands of survivors and countless other Texans are making a visible difference.
Lending a helping hand are the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), partners in the recovery effort along with other federal agencies, local governments and dozens of volunteer organizations across Texas.
Kevin Hannes, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer (FCO) for the recovery mission, estimates federal assistance alone for Texas survivors, their communities and the state will eventually top $125 million. This projection is for disaster recovery from wildfires that broke out Aug. 30 and later.
“Full recovery from the worst wildfire disaster in Texas history doesn’t come easily or quickly,” said Hannes. “Since the fires first erupted in Bastrop County and scores of other communities last summer, FEMA’s commitment to Texas has been strong, and we will remain a powerful force in the recovery effort until our work here is done.”
Indeed, while the Labor Day 2011 wildfires were still burning in Bastrop County, FEMA specialists, along with their state counterparts and local officials, began walking through fire-ravaged neighborhoods to assess the damages. Thus, when the state of Texas requested a major disaster declaration for Bastrop County on Sept. 9, 2011 -- and received the declaration the same day -- FEMA was already in place and ready to help.
Over the next few weeks, as FEMA approved state requests to expand the scope of federal assistance, the disaster area would grow to 23 counties under the Individual Assistance (IA) program. Moreover, the declaration would eventually encompass 61 counties under the Public Assistance (PA) program, with many of the counties designated for both forms of assistance. Additionally, the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program was approved for all 254 Texas counties.
Throughout the past six months, FEMA and state recovery specialists have been in burned out neighborhoods, on the phone and at dozens of Disaster Recovery Centers, listening to applicants’ concerns, helping them apply for assistance and sometimes just lending an ear. By law, federal disaster assistance cannot duplicate insurance coverage, but through FEMA’s IA program more than 1,000 eligible Texans and their families are getting grants to help put them on the road to recovery.
Moreover, FEMA and TDEM have made a special commitment to ensure survivors get the maximum amount of government assistance they are eligible to receive. When survivors have needs that go beyond the scope of government assistance, the FEMA outreach liaisons can put them together with long-term recovery groups in their communities. More than 2,370 survivors have received follow-up phone calls — and an additional $2.1 million is getting to eligible survivors.
Since the Sept. 9 major disaster declaration, nearly $42.2 million in state and federal recovery assistance has already been approved or obligated for homeowners, renters and business owners under the IA program, or to the state, state agencies, local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations under the PA program.
Included in the total is more than $21.1 million in low-interest disaster loans from FEMA’s federal partner, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The federal government’s primary source of funding for rebuilding of disaster-damaged private property, the SBA has already approved loans to 181 homeowners and 13 businesses.
The $42.2 million total includes:
- $11,155,799 in rental assistance and grants to repair and rebuild homes;
- $2,711,340 for other disaster-related needs such a...