CHEROKEE, N.C. – Financial assistance under the first presidential disaster declaration issued to a tribal nation has topped $2.4 million, FEMA officials say.
FEMA is funding repair and recovery projects for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians following severe weather that caused flooding and landslides in January.
“This is the first time the federal government has worked one-on-one in partnership with a tribal government following a disaster,” said Michael Bolch, the FEMA official in charge of federal operations in the recovery. “It is a truly historic operation.”
In January, when President Obama signed into law legislation permitting tribal nations to request disaster assistance, the EBCI tribe was already assessing damage from a storm that had struck earlier in the month. Eastern Band Principal Chief Michell Hicks requested the disaster declaration Feb. 14, and President Obama approved it March 1. That made the tribe the first to request and receive a declaration under the new law.
The largest damage area was a section of U.S. 441 that was completely closed by a landslide with significant impact on the local tourism industry. The highway, repaired by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, reopened April 15 – about a month ahead of original estimates. Other projects include repairs to a pedestrian bridge across the Oconaluftee River in Cherokee, the tribe-owned golf course and numerous local roads.
The recovery is currently funded on a 75/25 cost-shared basis.
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.