Malden has received Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance to start rebuilding after waiting nearly five months for the president to sign off on the request.
“It feels like a thousand-pound gorilla has been lifted off our shoulders,” Malden Mayor Dan Harwood said.
Individuals who lost homes will not receive money through FEMA. The city was approved for public assistance, but not individual assistance. However, residents can apply for Small Business Administration disaster loans, he said.
There is an option to appeal the decision for no individual assistance. However, the city will not appeal because 99 percent of appeals are denied, Harwood said.
“We’ve waited five months for this, and it was an ecstatic feeling. Many of our folks had tears in their eyes when they came into the office,” he said.
The goal is to help as many people as possible, whether they decide to stay in Malden or not, said Malden Councilmember Scott Hokonson. Residents have until April 9 to apply for loans through the SBA and people with low credit can qualify at a low-interest rate.
“Their lives are transferable if they choose to not be here anymore, good for them, we will help them just the same as people who want to come back here,” Hokonson said.
He said the money from FEMA will go toward rebuilding public areas, like roads with asphalt that were superheated and falling apart.
Ninety-five percent of the standing trees in town were burnt and need to be taken down. Roughly 20 sites in town still need to be tested for harmful substances like asbestos, he said.
If the weather permits it, a group of Amish volunteers from Montana will arrive in Malden on Feb. 15 to start building two homes, Harwood said. These will be the first houses to be rebuilt.
“Seeing a house go up is going to bring a lot of tears to a lot of eyes and a lot of emotions,” Hokonson.
Hokonson said he wants citizens to remember the mental health resources available to them. FEMA will provide resources like counselors and therapy in the near future. Washington state already has resources available.
“We were dealing with COVID and then dealing with fire in addition to that. So the stress in Malden is tough,” Harwood said. “But no one’s going to be left alone.”