FEMA to assist Southeast Alaska communities with cost of December storm disaster

Workers in a dirty are
A crew from Alaska Power & Telephone work to reconnect power to residents of Lutak Road on Dec. 6, 2020, in Haines. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Feb. 17 that it would provide assistance for the December storm disaster in Southeast Alaska.

After floods, landslides and mudslides caused extensive damage and killed two people in December, state officials began cataloguing the damage throughout the region.

Using that information, Gov. Mike Dunleavy made a request for public assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA spokesperson Hannah Weinstein said the agency’s public assistance provides funds to state, local and tribal governments, as well as some private nonprofits, for emergency response and infrastructure repairs.

“This unlocks grants to repair roads, bridges, to do debris removal — that kind of thing,” Weinstein said.

The Biden administration declared a major disaster for the December storm last week, making federal funds available to Haines, Skagway, Juneau, Petersburg and nearby communities in the Chatham Regional Educational Attendance Area.

State officials say the estimated cost of the storm damage is approximately $36 million across the region, but according to Weinstein, there’s no fixed amount of funding from FEMA to cover the damages.

“There’s not a cap. There’s no, ‘Okay, this is the full amount of what you get,’” Weinstein said. “It’s based on the project itself, so an entity will apply for a public assistance grant for a specific project and then we work with them to estimate the cost of that project and then we get that money out the door.”

FEMA reimburses applicants for 75% of eligible expenses, with the state covering the remaining 25%. Grants can be used to reimburse emergency expenses during the storm, as well as projects that have yet to be completed. It is not yet clear how local governments and nonprofits can apply for public assistance grants from FEMA.

Weinstein said in addition to disaster expenses, the federal disaster declaration will also make funding available for hazard mitigation for the entire state of Alaska.

“It’s looking even more in the future with what kind of projects can we work on with the state and local governments to reduce the chances that something like this could happen again,” Weinstein said.

The Dunleavy administration did not request assistance for individuals from FEMA. Instead, the state is rolling out its own program to help people who lost property and are facing new expenses as a result of the storm.

State assistance can help replace personal possessions and cover the cost of housing, transportation, medical, funeral or dental expenses related to the disaster.

Eligible individuals can apply for the state’s individual assistance program at ready.alaska.gov through Feb. 26.