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One year after Hurricane Michael, recovery efforts continue

It has now been a year since Seminole County and Southwest Georgia took a beating from Hurricane Michael, and for its citizens it has been a year of almost apocalyptic hardships. The storm’s powerful eye wall swept north-northeast through Seminole County — still as a Category 3 storm, with sustained winds up to 115 mph and gusts of up to 160 mph — delivering destruction in every square inch of the county. Hurricane Michael shocked this community with terrifying power, downing live oaks and pines and damaging hundreds of homes, uprooting acres of pecan trees and sweeping away the highly anticipated bountiful yields of last year’s harvest. The morning after the storm 100 percent of Seminole County residents was without electrical power because of snapped poles and thousands of trees being blown onto lines, and at some point every road in the county was blocked by fallen trees and/or debris.

The farms and everything else took a severe beating. The damage was so widespread that the Georgia Agriculture Department estimated at the time it would be more than a $2 billion hit to the state’s economy.

One year ago today the material things in this entire community were torn apart. Today, neighbor is still helping neighbor to put it all back together.

The sounds of roaring winds and rain from the October 10, 2018 storm were quickly replaced a year ago with the hum of portable generators and the squealing of chain saws across Seminole County as the recovery from Hurricane Michael began. Those sounds eventually began to fade only to be replaced by the constant buzz of skill saws and hammering from repair work and reconstruction, but the loudest sounds of all have been the ones coming from the Seminole County people and their countless stories of despair and harship.

Amazing progress has been accomplished in recovery efforts over the past year. The removal efforts of one million cubic yards of vegetative debris was monumental. The assistance provided by first responders and electrical linemen was exhausting and so very much appreciated, but all you have to do is look in any direction throughout Seminole County to see that so much more still needs to be done. Countless residents remain displaced or are living in dwellings in need of major repair. FEMA denials, delays, insurance issues  and  contractor selection are common threads in almost every conversation throughout the county.

In the City of Donalsonville the damage to city buildings and property owned by the City was estimated at $1,103,405.26, all of which was covered by the city’s insurance policy, less applicable deductibles.  Work has been substantially completed as of September 30, 2019 and the city has received $21,140.54 in insurance proceeds for other related damages to buildings and equipment.

City Manager Steve Hicks commented, “The City was approved for funding from NRCS to address emergency issues related to the city’s drainage system.  The work was completed by city forces at a cost of $26,709.56.  The City has applied for additional funding from NRCS to complete the cleanup and clearing of the drainage system.  The estimated cost is $121,152.50.

In addition to the costs related to the drainage system and debris removal, the City is in the process of submitting or will submit a request in excess of $456,000 for reimbursement from FEMA and GEMA for expenses related to Hurricane Michael.”

The removal of the C&D debris generated in the city was completed on June 6, 2019. 320.65 tons of debris were hauled to the Decatur County Landfill site.  The total cost for hauling and disposal was $35,592.15. The work for vegetative debris burning was completed September 16, 2019 pending final closeout documentation and site cleanup. Donalsonville, Seminole County, and Iron City operations costs were: City of Donalsonville, 12,368 cubic yards @ $2.85 cy= $35,248.80; Seminole County, 35,132 cubic yards @ $2.85 cy= $100,126.20; Iron City, GA.:  300 cubic yards @ $2.85 cy = $855.00.

All FEMA paperwork to date as it relates to the City has been documented and submitted for final approval.

“The City adopted a budget effective June 1, 2019 that did not anticipate a property tax increase.  An even more conservative approach was taken that did not include any reimbursements that may be coming to the City.  The funding for reimbursements may take one to three more years.  The City will manage budget operations to ensure that we are providing the needed services while also prioritizing expenditures until such time that reimbursements are received. At the same time, we will pursue opportunities to build on the improvements that are taking place in the City by seeking economic development projects and implementing infrastructure improvements.

While the process to clean up and restore damage property is ongoing, the city is reverting to pre-storm policies related to property maintenance and cleanup.  We understand there are still contractor and insurance issues some citizens are dealing with and we will continue work with these situations as we are made aware of them.  More stringent actions will be applied if no cleanup to those situations where efforts are not being made to address property cleanup,” added Hicks.

When will Federal disaster 

funding and assistance arrive?

A month ago on September 9 Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Federal relief money was finally on its way to Georgia, nearly 11 months after Hurricane Michael uprooted crops and left a trail of destruction at many farms in the state’s Southwest corner.

Perdue said that his federal department would begin accepting applications for more than $3 billion in aid that Congress set aside for farmers in a disaster relief package signed into law earlier this Summer. Farmers in Seminole County and 79 additional Georgia counties that were designated presidential emergency disaster zones in 2018 are eligible for the money. Although these disaster program benefits will not make producers whole, we hope the assistance will ease some of the financial strain farmers, ranchers and their families are experiencing. The agriculture money is the first major chunk of disaster relief funding to be released since the $19 billion emergency relief package was cleared for release in June.

Dozens of federal agencies are divvying up the rest of the money, which will go toward repairing roads, housing and other damaged infrastructure across the country. It could take months for that money to trickle down to states and cities. Payouts to farmers will be determined by their county of residence, the size of their losses and their crop insurance levels.

The aid program outlined by Perdue did not address block grants, the lump sum payments to states that had been pushed by Gov. Brian Kemp and Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.

A USDA spokesman said the department is “discussing the parameters of state block grants with interested states.” It’s unclear how much money will ultimately flow to Georgia, but for some farmers it could be too little, too late. Planting season has come and gone for many crops. Still, local lawmakers expressed relief that the money was finally on its way to farmers’ pockets. “It has been a long road to get the disaster relief Middle and Southwest Georgians desperately need since Hurricane Michael ripped through our district in October 2018,” said U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, whose Southwest Georgia district was slammed by the storm.  Thanks to the work of Perdue and the Department of Agriculture, he added, “Americans all over the nation and across the territories will finally have access to the aid they need to rebuild our communities and move forward towards recovery.”

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