By David Smith
Gov. Bill Haslam announced today the federal government will provide assistance to 35 counties still recovering from the severe winter storm of February 15 to February 22, 2015, that took 30 lives and caused widespread damage.
“This deadly and devastating storm required a comprehensive and coordinated response from many, and this federal assistance will hopefully provide some relief to these counties that are trying to recover and rebuild,” Haslam said.
The following counties are included in the declaration: Anderson, Bedford, Bledsoe, Blount, Campbell, Clay, Coffee, Cumberland, Fentress, Giles, Grainger, Grundy, Hamblen, Hancock, Hardeman, Jefferson, Knox, Lawrence, Loudon, Marshall, McMinn, McNairy, Meigs, Monroe, Moore, Morgan, Obion, Overton, Putnam, Roane, Scott, Sevier, Van Buren, Warren and White.
The presidential disaster declaration has a designation of DR-4211 and will allow government entities and certain private non-profits in the declared counties to apply for reimbursement of specific expenses related to disaster response and recovery, under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program.
State and local governments and electrical utilities spent more than $30.4 million in their response and recovery actions before, during and after the winter storm.
The federal assistance will allow eligible entities in the designated counties to receive a 75 percent reimbursement for costs related to debris removal, emergency protective measures, and rebuilding and repairing roads, bridges, water control facilities, buildings, utilities and recreational facilities.
The severe winter weather event began in West Tennessee in the early morning of February 15, with record snow and sleet accumulations and then lesser amounts of ice and freezing rain. The winter storm continued in multiple waves, with sleet, snow, freezing rain, and dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills throughout each region of Tennessee before ending on February 22.
For only the seventh time in the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency’s history, the State Emergency Operations Center activated to a Level II-state of emergency as the storm progressed. Emergency Services Coordinators and TEMA staff maintained operations at the SEOC on a 24-hour basis through the duration of the emergency.
The National Weather Service characterized the event as one of the worst ice storms to hit Tennessee in two decades and temperatures reached record lows in many parts of the state. Of the 30 reported weather-related fatalities, more than half were due to hypothermia.
At the onset of the storm the American Red Cross placed 19 shelters on standby, primarily along interstates in counties hit hardest from the winter storm. The Red Cross and many private organization activated shelters in Blount, Campbell, Coffee, Davidson, Dyer, Fentress, Grainger, Grundy, Hamblen, Knox, Marshall, McMinn, Monroe, Montgomery, Overton, Putnam, Roane, and White counties. At peak, there were more than 290 shelter occupants reported.
Power outages peaked at 67,000 people on February 16, and more than 32,000 people were still without power on February 22. The lack of power forced businesses, universities, K-12 schools and daycares to close, disrupting communities and residents throughout the state.
At least 11 drinking water systems in Cookeville, Knoxville and Johnson City had weather-related issues such as line breaks, frozen pumps, power outages and loss of back-up power.
Multiple state agencies were involved in the response, including the Tennessee departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Insurance, Correction, Environment and Conservation, Finance and Administration General Services, Health, Human Resources, Human Services, Transportation, Military, Safety and the Tennessee National Guard, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Commission on Aging. The response involved approximately 3,500 state employees.
For more updates regarding the state’s response, visit the TEMA website at www.tnema.org.