By Scott Smith
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is requesting federal disaster aid for Kokomo and Howard County in the wake of two natural disasters in the past eight months.
Pence made the request to President Barack Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency Wednesday, about two weeks after touring the devastation in Kokomo from the Nov. 17 tornadoes.
The request could open the door for grants and low-interest loans for residents, as well as low-interest loans for businesses.
“Having seen firsthand the damage in Kokomo and Howard County, as well as other communities throughout Indiana, we are committed to helping Hoosiers recover,” Pence said.
The state is asking for federal aid, at least initially, only for Howard County, where tornadoes either destroyed or heavily damaged 191 homes and left 33,000 homes and businesses without power.
“According to FEMA standards, the damage in Howard County gives us a starting point for a major disaster declaration request. If Howard County is approved, we will have the opportunity to request assistance for additional counties, if damage warrants.”
No one was seriously injured in the Howard County tornadoes, but damage estimates in the state’s request indicate Kokomo could need $4.54 million in direct federal aid, and more than $10.5 million in disaster assistance loans.
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said the aid would be a considerable help in the wake of the storms.
“There are people still in temporary housing situations, there are people who lost their jobs because their employers were displaced. There are a lot of challenges, and we’re just trudging through it, day to day,” Goodnight said.
State officials said local charities had provided over 15,000 meals to disaster victims as of Nov. 25, and said more than a dozen groups are still in the process of providing aid.
The total financial impact of the storm has yet to be calculated, but state and local officials say Kokomo was still recovering from a 100-year flood event in April when the tornadoes hit
The April storm damaged 213 homes and 15 businesses, displacing dozens of residents. The city is in the process of tearing down all of the flood-damaged properties in an area just south of the Wildcat Creek downtown.
Haynes Industrial, one of the city’s largest employers, sustained an estimated $3 million in flood damage during the April storm, and the federal Small Business Administration disbursed over $1 million in low-interest loans to homeowners after that event.
City and state officials declined to compare the severity of the two Kokomo disasters, but city officials said the cumulative effect of the flood and the tornadoes, coupled with high unemployment and a sluggish economy, means a long rebuilding process.
“[Kokomo] and its citizens will take years to recover from the financial, physical and emotional damage inflicted by the tornadoes,” city officials wrote in a request to the state. “Our community’s recovery process has been stretched beyond the limit…”
John Erickson, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, said disaster requests like the one filed by Gov. Pence Wednesday typically receive a response within 30 days, although sometimes the response is much quicker.
If the disaster request is granted, state officials could consider asking for similar aid for Grant, Daviess and Fountain counties.
Scott Smith, business editor, can be reached at 765-454-8569, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @JasonSSmith1