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South Carolina Needs a ‘Hail Mary Pass’ for Disaster Help

The storm included winds up to 90 mph and hail that damaged vehicles and 28 homes were destroyed or had major damage. The National Weather Service said the combination of hail and wind is common to the Midwest.

Closeup of hail on the ground.
(TNS) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster asked President Joe Biden Tuesday to declare the April 20 hail storm that battered Rock Hill a federal disaster so people affected will be eligible for more than $1.2 million in federal assistance.

The official request for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance is the first official push by state officials to seek federal dollars to offset some of the the more than $5 million in public and private damage from the storm. But there's no guarantee the request to cover damage will be approved, York County Emergency Management Director Chuck Haynes said.

And it remains unclear when federal officials from FEMA will act on Gov. Mcmaster's request.

"We now have to wait and see if it is approved," Haynes told The Herald after the formal request by the governor.

The Herald previously reported local political leaders and government officials secured McMaster's support to ask the president for help after tabulating preliminary damage figures. The severity of the storm prompted Democrats and Republicans to work together across political party lines, leaders of both parties told The Herald.

Democratic State Sen. Mike Fanning, whose district saw the damage, said only Gov. McMaster, a Republican, had the authority to throw the "Hail Mary pass" request that could trigger federal aid from Biden, a Democrat.

"Please join me in praying that the President catches it," Fanning wrote. "The ball is literally now in his hands."

The hail storm included winds of up to 90 mph and hail that damaged vehicles and homes. In the letter to the president, McMaster said 28 homes were destroyed or had major damage. National Weather Service officials said last month's combination of hail and wind was more common to the Midwest and the worst storm of its type to hit York County in memory.

What could help include?

FEMA and Small Business Administration officials were in Rock Hill last week reviewing damage, York County officials said. That look at homes and businesses, plus more than 400 surveys submitted to the county by homeowners, led to the county reaching a level where a federal disaster could be declared for individuals, Haynes said.

York County Council addressed the storm and an ongoing need for assistance when it met Monday night.

"We are doing everything possible to come up with as much as we can to help that area," said Chairwoman Christi Cox.

Assistance would include SBA disaster loans available to businesses and homeowners if the federal disaster is declared, according to a statement from York County officials. The state can make the SBA request 20 days after making the formal request to FEMA, officials said.

Public damage not enough

The amount of damage to public infrastructure is not enough for the city of Rock Hill and York County to seek reimbursement for government costs from the storm, Haynes said.

The city and county needed to have almost $10 million in public damage to qualify for public assistance aid, Haynes said.

The city of Rock Hill had to replace more than 60 utility poles and other electrical equipment. It had costs that included crews from the city and other providers around the state who helped make repairs. The city has not yet tallied the final storm cost.

Storm cleanup

At the Monday county council meeting, officials praised the rapid response to the storm and the army of volunteers who helped.

Councilman William "Bump" Roddey said he's "proud and honored" of how quickly the city got power restored, the county worked through emergency response and community members pitched in to clear debris or donate food.

"We had some people who lost a lot," he said. "We had some who weren't affected nearly as much but those who got hit, they got hit hard."

Roddey said there needs to be a public discussion about homeowners insurance. It's something many people in the area didn't have despite owning a home.

"Some people have to choose between homeowners insurance (and) groceries," he said. "Homeowners insurance (and) medicine."

Councilman Tom Audette said there's a post-traumatic stress conversation, too. He works with a mental health organization that meets monthly in Rock Hill and is trying to help people who'd never seen golf ball sized hail breaking house or car windows, Audette said.

"They're having nightmares about it," he said.

This story was originally published May 8, 2024, 11:06 AM.


©2024 The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)
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