WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to direct resources to the communities devastated by recent flash floods in Luzerne County.
“I personally surveyed the devastation and fully believe the people, businesses, and local governments of affected municipalities in Luzerne County deserve all due consideration for federal resources to help them recover and rebuild from this natural disaster,” Senator Casey wrote in a letter to FEMA Administrator William Fugate and SBA Administrator Karen Mills.
Last week, Senator Casey viewed the damage to homes and property on Coal Street in Plymouth and spoke with residents affected by the disaster. In his letter today, Senator Casey expressed concern that current economic conditions will hinder the community’s ability to recover without federal assistance.
“Simply stated, neither the State nor local governments have the capabilities or resources necessary to effectively respond to this disaster,” Senator Casey wrote.
The full text of the letter is below:
Dear Administrator Fugate and Administrator Mills:
I write to you both today regarding devastating flash flooding that occurred in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania on July 3, 2011. I personally surveyed the devastation and fully believe the people, businesses, and local governments of affected municipalities in Luzerne County deserve all due consideration for federal resources to help them recover and rebuild from this natural disaster.
On a day when the people of Plymouth Borough, Plymouth Township, Jackson Township and surrounding communities were preparing to celebrate the Independence Day holiday, they were rocked by torrential rains and strong winds. According to reports, the storm dropped nearly seven inches of rain in less than two hours. This triggered massive flash flooding resulting in an overwhelming amount of damage to both public infrastructure and private homes and businesses. Rather than celebrate on the Fourth of July, the community began a cleanup that continues to the present.
During my tour of the area in Plymouth Borough and Plymouth Township on July 8, I saw firsthand the significant damage to roads, bridges and other infrastructure. I also saw an overwhelming amount of mud and debris. I also personally spoke with several homeowners whose homes were severely damaged by the storm.
I firmly believe that federal resources should be directed to fix public infrastructure and help households and businesses recover in these communities. I understand that federal policy guidelines require federal agencies to take into account several indicators when determining whether federal assistance will be provided. While I recognize that dollar assessments of the level of damage is a factor, I strongly urge you to consider the concentration of the damages, the degree of trauma experienced by these communities, and their overall ability to recover from the damages.
The damage is concentrated in these communities in such a way that simply moving from one location to another is nearly impossible, particularly for older citizens living in these areas. The trauma, both emotional and physical, is significant. Both individual citizens and local officials in these municipalities will spend the next several months, if not years, recovering from this disaster. Moreover, these communities are struggling in these difficult economic times and simply lack the financial ability to pay for the recovery. The county’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for May stands at 8.8 percent, which is significantly higher than the state rate. It is also important to note that the Commonwealth lacks a dedicated disaster assistance program. These factors underscore the unique economic and financial challenges facing these communities.
For these reasons, I strongly urge you to take into account all relevant factors, including the concentration of the damages, the extent of the trauma, and the clear lack of state and local funding, in determining whether federal assistance can be made available to help these communities recovery. Simply stated, neither the State nor local governments have the capabilities or resources necessary to effectively respond to this disaster. I also strongly urge that federal resources be utilized to help these communities undertake mitigation measures in order to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property.
Please know that I appreciate the attention that federal officials from FEMA and other agencies have already given to this disaster. I understand that the ongoing preliminary damage assessment should be completed in the near future. I request that I be notified about the results. I also urge you to take into account all relevant factors in evaluating the situation and ultimately provide federal resources to assist these communities in the recovery effort.
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator