CHARLESTON - Four months after President Obama's disaster declaration on June 25, 2016, the focus in the 12 designated West Virginia counties is now on long-term recovery and schools.
As of the end of October 2016, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Individuals and Households program had approved more than $41.5 million in grants to 4,294 West Virginia applicants. FEMA's Public Assistance Program had obligated more than $53 million for infrastructure repairs and restoration.
Additionally, the U.S. Small Business Administration had approved 777 loans to 705 homeowners and renters and 70 businesses of all sizes totaling more than $50 million. The National Flood Insurance Program approved more than 955 claims for more than $32 million.
With those financial needs in hand, the efforts of FEMA's Volunteer Agency Liaisons (VALs) have moved to the forefront in helping the establishment of local long-term recovery groups.
By working with voluntary, faith-based and community stakeholders, the VALs help the groups build relationships and coordinate efforts with and across partner organizations and government agencies.
The groups are working to help storm survivors who still have unmet needs. Their efforts are community driven and involve assessing and addressing these needs. Volunteer entities also assist the groups in training case managers and providing construction crews as well as monetary assistance.
The Greater Fayette County Long Term Recovery Committee, for example, was slated to hold an informational meeting at the Belva Baptist Church on Nov. 10, seeking to make contact with those affected by the summer flooding. For more information on the committee's efforts, contact Rick Lewis or John Paul Jones at 304-658-5000.
Increasing resiliency is also part of the long-term perspective. To that end, FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) has implemented the Mitigation Reconstruction measure. This allows West Virginia to use HMGP funds in the construction of an improved, elevated building on the same site where an existing building and/or foundation has been partially or completely demolished or destroyed. Mitigation reconstruction measure requires the construction of code-compliant and hazard resistant structures.
By focusing on rebuilding resilient houses, mitigation reconstruction aims to meet the state's goals of preserving communities' identity and integrity.
Frequently a focal point for their communities, public schools hard-hit by flooding constituted an area of great concern to residents. On Oct. 24, Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito announced a $1.7 million FEMA grant for the Nicholas County School District to secure temporary facilities destroyed or damaged as a result of the historic flooding.
While the Nicholas County School Board has awarded a contract for portable classrooms, the remaining four schools - Herbert Hoover High and Clendenin Elementary in Kanawha County, and Richwood middle and high schools in Nicholas County - still have portable contracts up for bid.
Ultimately, though, people are the prime focus of recovery. Help remains available to individual disaster survivors:
Free disaster legal assistance is available to storm survivors. This service offers counseling on insurance claims, landlord-tenant issues, home-repair contracts, and the replacement of lost or damaged legal documents and other legal matters. Call the toll-free hotline 877-331-4259.
If you or someone you know is struggling with post-disaster stress, you are not alone. Help is as near as your phone. Call the Help for West Virginia Helpline at 844-435-7498. In addition, you can contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990 or text "TalkWithUs" to 66746.
Contact West Virginia 211 (dial 211 on any phone) for help finding food, childcare, crisis counseling and many other available resources.
West Virginians seeking information about disaster-related services and unmet needs, as well as volunteering and donating, should visit the state's Help for West Virginia Disaster website wvflood.com.
Individuals who wish to help with flood response and recovery may sign up with West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) at wvvoad.org.
If survivors have questions about their individual registration, call the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362.
Additional information on West Virginia's disaster recovery can be found at www.disasterassistance.gov; the flood pages at wvflood.com; fema.gov/disaster/4273; twitter.com/femaregion3; and fema.gov/blog.