Gov. Phil Bredesen has officially asked the federal government to help bail the Volunteer State out of flood damages caused by more than a dozen inches of rain in Middle Tennessee over the weekend.
But neither the state nor the Federal Emergency Management Agency have a clue yet as to what the total cost of the disaster will be — and officials from both say it’ll be some time before anyone can even come up with a realistic estimate.
“Yeah, this is bad. And my experience tells me that with flood damages — because you’re so focused on response — you’re still going to probably be several days of discovering how bad it is,” said Craig Fugate, a FEMA administrator reviewing Tennessee’s request to become a federal disaster area.
Bredesen wants the feds to help pay for damages to state and locally own buildings, and also mitigate the costs to uninsured private property owners by issuing low-interest loans.
“This is not $5 million. This is a big, big damage,” said Bredesen. “This is going to be a very, very expensive thing.”
The state’s official plea for relief can move forward without those numbers, however, Fugate said.
After surveying the damage from a National Guard helicopter, Bredsen requested that President Obama declare 52 of the state’s 95 counties eligible for disaster relief. The governor is asking that FEMA team up with the state to determine the both the magnitude and impact of flood and storm damage, a process that is scheduled to begin Monday, May 10.
After the study is complete, the state will determine if the cleanup is too much for Tennessee to handle on its own. State government officials will then verify how much to ask the federal government to kick down. After that, President Obama would decide whether to declare a major disaster or emergency, and if he does FEMA will designate which counties are eligible, and for what levels of assistance.
According to the FEMA website, the federal share of disaster recovery assistance “will always be” at least 75 percent of applicable costs.
Tennessee’s application asks for help in several areas, including programs that offer money as services to individuals with flood damages that were not covered by insurance, unemployment help, crisis counseling, food stamps, legal aid and disaster loans for small businesses.