Michigan Governor Denies State of Emergency After Tornado

The damage done to the county after tornadoes ripped through its villages and towns on March 14 didn’t meet the state threshold for declaring a State of Emergency.

by Zahra Ahmad, The Flint Journal, Mich. / April 2, 2019

(TNS) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer denied declaring a state of emergency for Shiawassee County last week.

The damage done to the county after tornadoes ripped through its villages and towns on March 14 didn’t meet the state threshold for declaring a State of Emergency, according to Shiawassee County Commission Chair Jeremy Root.

In total 135 structures, 94 homes, four businesses, 16 barns and 22 RVs were damaged or destroyed in the wake of the storm. Approximately $10 million in damage was done to homes and businesses, Shiawassee Emergency Management Director Trent Atkins stated.

Three goats and a chicken were killed, but no people were injured or killed by the tornadoes, Atkins said.

“Though we are disappointed, the resilience of our county is amazing,” Atkins said. “We had hundreds of local volunteers and groups like Team Rubicon that brought volunteers from as far away as New York and Wisconsin. United Way, Red Cross, Salvation Army and so many other non-profits were here from day one and continue to assist residents.”

A state of disaster or emergency declaration is primarily designed to provide state help in the form of personnel, supplies, equipment and materials when the situation is beyond the capability and control of local government, according to Dale George, public information officer for the state’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

“In this situation, Shiawassee County did a great job in implementing their emergency plans and utilizing mutual aid agreements to address threats to public health, safety and property, and in addressing the basic needs of the affected residents,” George said.

County officials requested that the governor declare a state of emergency on March 15, Root said. Root was driving to a meeting when he noticed people in need of help as the tornadoes ran through the the county.

“We signed two declarations, one was the state of emergency that lasts seven days and the second was a request to the governor’s office for the help we need,” Root said. “The biggest disappoint[ment] with denying our state of emergency is the governor personally called me and said her office is available to our county 24/7 and will try to help us with whatever we need. So, I wrote to her what we needed, and she didn’t help us at all."

There is a process and criteria that must be met for a declaration to be made, State Press Secretary Tiffany Brown stated.

“In this case, the governor followed the recommendation of the MSP (Michigan State Police) Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division that administers the fund and has been fully engaged with the county throughout the process,” Brown stated.

After an emergency is declared — which occurs “under extraordinary circumstances" — the governor can provide financial assistance through the Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund when federal help isn’t available, George said.

“However, this is only if the costs place an unreasonably great fiscal demand on the county or municipality," George said. "The Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund is also limited to reimbursement for public damage and direct loss as a result of the disaster or emergency and cannot be applied to private damage to a home or business.”

Root said state police flew a helicopter over the county to survey the land and saw more damage. People then began coming out and reporting even more damage to officials.

County officials were trying to secure contingency funding from the state to help pay responders.

“Once we knew that the amount and cost of damage done exceeded 1 percent of the county’s general fund, it was obvious that we needed to declare a state of emergency,” Root said. “We had firefighters working 24-hour days for a week. These towns don’t have the funds to support wages like that.”

The county requested aid in the form of trucks, chainsaw crews and overall support to help residents who’ve lost everything in the storms. Root said he figured the request would be partially denied because of the support the community was providing.

“But we were denied all of it,” Root said.

George said the information Shiawasseee County provided to the state estimated costs to public agencies at $150,000.

“Although the county incurred expenses in responding to and recovering from the storm, the local commitment did not place unreasonably great demands upon the county or clearly demonstrate exhaustion of local effort,” George said.

The support shown by community members in Shiawassee County is undeniable, Root said. He didn’t expect neighbors to pull together and help.

“It was great to see the community support one another during this, it was expected," Root said. "It’s like the neighbor you ... wouldn’t expect to count on showed up and were there for us. It really surprised me. Every time you turn around and there’s a group of people with chainsaws here to help.”

All the debris and damage has been cleaned up, Root said.

“Right now, people are trying to rebuild their lives,” he said. “They’re going through their homes and working with their insurance companies to assess the damage.”

Root said the true heroes in the wake of this disaster is the county’s emergency manager and the emergency responders that pulled through to help the people of Shiawassee County.

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©2019 The Flint Journal, Mich.

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