Governor seeks aid for storm

Following a historic windstorm that occurred Nov. 17, Washington Governor Jay Inslee asked President Barack Obama to issue a Major Disaster Declaration. On Jan. 8, Inslee sought again approval from the president for the funds. 

The Governor asked Obama in a letter that 39 counties be included to allow for federal assistance, including Whitman County.

Washington Military Department communications director, Karina Shagren said when local jurisdictions have stretched every resource possible, they turn to the state.

“The state believes they have met the threshold to qualify for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (F.E.M.A) public assistance program,” Shagren said.

Respective indicators for the Public Assistance Program show that in Whitman County, the verified damage assessment was $301,687.00. In the state overall, damages added up to a total of $21,743,432.80.

According to the governor’s press release, more than 500,000 utility customers in Washington lost power at some point during the windstorm. The power outages and debris prompted WSU officials to cancel class until 1 p.m. the next day.

“Given the typical ratio of power customers to actual people, this means at least 1 million people were affected by power outages in Washington alone,” said.

Furthermore, in Inslee’s letter to Obama,  he mentions how Spokane public schools were closed for five days after the storm and took six days to remove trees tangled in wire that were blocking the street. Spokane International Airport recorded a gust of 71 mph on Nov. 17, slightly less than hurricane-force.

“This storm brought significant damage statewide,” Inslee said. “Powerful winds knocked out utility services to hundreds of customers. Heavy rain washed out local roads and state highways. And downed trees and power lines caused damage to several buildings and other public infrastructure.”

The worst of the outages were in the Spokane area, where the National Weather Service office tweeted that the power outages are among the most extensive ever seen in Spokane’s history.

In his letter, Inslee said “Avista Corporation in Spokane County experienced the largest outage in the company’s 126-year history.”

Furthermore, Avista said 70 percent of its 181,000 Spokane County customers didn’t have power shortly after midnight on Nov. 18.

The governor also asked that the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program be made available statewide. This program provides funds for community planning and projects designed to limit or prevent future disaster damage.

If public assistance is approved, the F.E.M.A grant program will defray 75 percent of the eligible costs of the emergency response, debris removal, and permanent repairs to public infrastructure. No further progress can be made until the president approves the declaration for public assistance.