FEMA denies Hawaii’s request for disaster declaration

The State of Hawaii’s request for a major disaster declaration due to Tropical Storm Iselle was denied Thursday by Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig Fugate.

The request sought individual assistance for individuals and households affected by the tropical storm in early August and Hazard Mitigation funds for use in statewide projects.

Administrator Fugate’s denial letter states: “it has been determined that the damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments, and voluntary agencies.”

In other words, the state should be able to handle the recovery efforts — efforts that are still ongoing and have left many people displaced from their homes and without essential needs like electricity and water for weeks.

Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi admitted he was disappointed by the news. “Our Office of Housing and Community Development and the National Guard went out and documented and verified the extent of Tropical Storm… Iselle’s impact,” Kenoi said. “We knew it was going to be a very rigorous process that was going to require a very detailed documentation and verification.”

Gov. Neil Abercrombie said in a statement, “The state and the County of Hawaii are working together to gather sufficient additional information, including socio-economic data, to justify a successful appeal.”

Kenoi said he’s “very grateful and appreciative of Gov. Neil Abercormbie’s willingness to meet and listen to the concerns and to support the people for the county of Hawaii and I’ve been informed he’ll be working on an appeal of the FEMA decision and for that, we’re greatly appreciative.”

The governor has 30 days to appeal. “It’s still within the governor’s authority if he wants to appeal the decision of the application so it’s still a possibility,” said Darryl Oliveira, Big Island Civil Defense director. “We’re prepared to give any information or support that would be needed if he does choose to appeal it.”

However, Oliveira adds that the state should be prepared to move forward even if FEMA’s decision is appealed.

As for why a damage estimate from the storm has not been released, Big Island Civil Defense says that FEMA is still doing assessments and those numbers should be available sometime next week.

“In the meantime, we’re still continuing to utilize the resources to have on island, primarily our non-profit organizations and county resources to still support the needs of the community that is still in recovery as we speak,” Oliveira said.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency will continue to work with federal and county officials on an application for assistance to rebuild public infrastructure.

The state also remains eligible for a declaration from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which will enable qualified individuals and businesses to receive low-interest loans for repairs.

People still in need of assistance following Iselle should call Hawaii County at (808) 935-0031 or the volunteer request line at (808) 464-3175.

The American Red Cross and the Hawaii State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters continues to take donations to help those affected by Iselle.

Donations can be made through the following channels:

American Red Cross, Hawaii State Chapter
Phone: (808) 734-2101

Hawaii State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters
Hurricane Iselle Long-Term Relief and Recovery Fund
Iselle donations may be dropped off at any American Savings Bank

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