By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Gov. Mary Fallin’s request for a presidential declaration for Cleveland County.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management reports that 154 homes were damaged, including 141 destroyed in Cleveland County. At least 127 of those homes were uninsured. Those preliminary numbers were verified by FEMA teams working the area, but it wasn’t enough to qualify the county for a presidential declaration.
With 30 days to appeal there is still hope. Teams continue to document Cleveland County damage.
“That number is going up,” Cleveland County Emergency Management Director Dan Cary said. “We’re still working on verifying addresses and making sure everyone is on our list. It looks like right now we have in excess of 180 homes destroyed. Various inspection teams have gone out and we’re compiling all of those reports.”
“The August 22, 2012, major disaster declaration, FEMA-4078-DR authorized Individual Assistance for the Freedom Wildfire in Creek County and Hazard Mitigation statewide. The damage to the dwellings from the Freedom Wildfire was significant in Creek County. However, based on our review of all of the information available, including the results of the joint federal, state, and local government Individual Assistance Preliminary Damage Assessment, it has been determined that the damage to the dwellings from wildfires in Cleveland, Oklahoma, and Payne counties was not of such severity and magnitude to warrant the designation of Individual Assistance for these counties. Therefore, your request for Individual Assistance for Cleveland, Oklahoma, and Payne Counties is denied,” writes W. Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator.
“I am extremely disappointed in FEMA’s decision to deny disaster assistance to all Oklahomans who have been tragically impacted by these fires,” Fallin said, in response to the denial letter received from FEMA.
“We are still receiving calls for people asking what their next step is,” Cary said. “We’ll be working with the state to come up with a state of Oklahoma declaration if we can’t get the presidential declaration. We’re still looking for other options if the federal help is not available.”
To build a case for appeal, all those who have sustained wildfire damage to their homes or businesses since July 28 are urged to call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) to report damage.
“I cannot stress enough how essential it is for those in Cleveland, Oklahoma and Payne counties to report their damage to FEMA as soon as possible.” Fallin said. “This is the best chance we have to make our case and hopefully bring much needed assistance to Oklahomans who have lost everything in these fires.”
Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak has praise and criticism for the agency that approved federal aid for Oklahoma wildfire victims in one county, but denied the same aid for three other counties.
“While the individual aid to Creek County victims is much appreciated and badly needed,” Doak said. “I want to know why the President and his administration will not help all Oklahoma fire victims.”
Doak said that 603 homes were destroyed statewide. Of those, 227 homes were in counties not included in the federal disaster aid declaration.
Doak and Oklahoma Insurance Department staff members met many affected homeowners and business owners and made them aware of the department’s Consumer Assistance resources.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” Doak said. “We will continue to help Oklahoma’s wildfire victims to the best of our ability in the months ahead.”
Joy Hampton 366-3539 jhampton@ normantranscript.com