It could take weeks before all seriously flood-damaged Tennessee counties are seriously considered for official disaster relief.
More counties will likely be added within coming days, but it will take weeks for officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to scope another 48 counties hammered in last weekend’s storms, officials said Wednesday.
“We’ll continue to assess the other counties that have been requested,” said Derek Jensen, a FEMA spokesman. “So we’re in the process of doing that right now. We’ll keep working with the state, look at what the impact’s been in those counties. It’s an evolving process and it’s going to be kind of a moving target for the next several weeks.”
The first four counties were deemed disaster areas less than 24 hours after officials took an aerial tour of Cheatham, Davidson, Hickman and Williamson counties to examine the damage, finding homes and industrial parks awash in murky flood waters. Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeremy Heidt expects the rest might take some time.
“We can add them as fast as we can do the assessments,” Heidt said, adding that counties not yet on the list haven’t been seen by FEMA yet. “It gets FEMA here on the ground like that,” said Heidt with a snap of his fingers.
Gov. Phil Bredesen asked the Obama administration Monday to declare 52 of 96 state counties official disaster areas worthy of federal government assistance. The president named four counties disaster areas Tuesday and two more Wednesday.
FEMA reimburses individuals, businesses and municipalities for recovery efforts after major disasters. Examples include paying for police and fire fighter overtime costs, fixing bridges and establishing centers where individuals can file claims and ask for help fixing their damaged homes.
All that will take time, Heidt said, so residents and businesses should hold onto receipts for any work, lodging or other costs they incurred due to the flooding.
It will take six months to assess the emergency costs and damages spurred by the rain fall that dropped almost 14 inches of rain throughout Tennessee, said Heidt. It will take 18 months to determine what permanent structures, like bridge, roads and buildings, will need repair.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said damages could be more than $1 billion.
The federal government generally covers 75 percent of costs incurred from disasters such as the flooding in much of Tennessee. The state and local government split the remaining 25 percent — although the state historically takes on half of that remaining cost, said Heidt.
Door to door evaluations to help determine the exact cost of damage begins on Monday, May 10.
“I think it’s important to note that federal assistance isn’t going to make people whole,” said Jensen, who is an external affairs specialist for FEMA. “It’s not designed to put things back where they were before the disaster, but it will get people started on their road to recovery.”