Johnston’s mayor has called on Gov. Dan McKee to make a “disaster declaration” in Johnston to help residents rebuild after the Aug. 18 tornado.
McKee’s administration says it’s not that simple.
“I would be very disappointed if the Town did not qualify for reimbursement, as the Governor recently announced a disaster declaration for Block Island for the Harborside Inn fire which affected businesses there,” Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr. wrote via email earlier this week. “This tornado, while it did impact businesses, affected something much more important and costly, people’s homes. The Chief and I will keep pushing for residents throughout this process.”
When asked to comment on Polisena’s challenge, a McKee spokesperson handed questions off to Rhode Island’s Emergency Management Agency (RI EMA).
“The disaster declaration that was announced for Block Island is very different than a disaster declaration for what occurred in Johnston,” clarified Armand Randolph, Public Information Officer for RI EMA. “Even more specifically — the disaster declarations are handled by two different Federal agencies. The Disaster Declaration announced for Block Island is an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Declaration from the Small Business Administration. The damages from the tornado fall under a FEMA Disaster Declaration … Most importantly, in order for the Governor to request a FEMA Disaster Declaration, the State must validate damage estimates from Providence County that are equal to or above the thresholds listed below. The sum of damage estimates from all cities and towns in Providence County must meet the threshold. Per FEMA Policy, the State has 30 days from the event date to request a FEMA Disaster Declaration.”
How much havoc did the Aug. 18 tornado cause in Johnston?
The town’s emergency responders say they need to hear from property owners whose homes, yards and businesses sustained damage during the storm.
“The damage assessment will be utilized to determine if the extent of the damage caused by the weather event/ tornado qualifies for a federal declaration, making the state eligible to receive federal assistance,” said Johnston Police Chief and Emergency Management Director Mark A. Vieira. “In order to conduct the damage assessment, all Johnston homeowners and businesses (affected) by the storm are being asked to report any costs they incurred.”
Town officials are also working with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) to “assess the extent of damage and costs resulting from the storm/tornado.” Home and business owners affected by the storm are asked to email any incurred costs to Vieira at EMA@johnstonpd.com.
“This includes costs for debris removal and property damage, even if it is covered by insurance,” Vieira explained. “Although federal funding is not guaranteed, this is the first step in the process to recoup costs associated with the storm.”
Polisena stressed how vital the relay of damage estimates is to the disaster declaration process.
“The more people that apply, the greater chance the Town has for a disaster declaration,” he explained. “The best way for them to apply is to submit their vendor quotes and bills for any costs incurred to mitigate damage from the tornado.”
The mayor referenced the recent fire on Block Island and Gov. Dan McKee’s subsequent disaster declaration.
“We don’t have a firm number for town-wide damage yet but this will help us determine that number,” Polisena replied when asked for Johnston’s current post-tornado damage estimates.
If your property sustained damage, send your Tornado Damage Assessment e-mail to EMA@johnstonpd.com, and “provide your property address, contact information, and a description of your incurred damage or costs directly related to this weather event,” according to town officials. “Also submit by email any costs or assessments from your insurance provider or vendors providing service or quotes (other damage should be listed with a “best estimate”).”
“It’s very important that all residents affected by the tornado submit their claims to the Chief Vieira to determine if they’re eligible for reimbursement,” Polisena wrote.
Property owners are also encouraged to provide “provide photographs to support the damages” if available. Damages and costs can include (but are not limited to) structural damage to residences/buildings or outbuildings, property damage (vehicles, landscape & outdoor furniture) and debris removal.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Gov. McKee issued a statement for Johnston residents: “The tornado that touched down in Johnston was the strongest our state has seen in nearly 40 years, and this historic storm damaged many homes in the town,” he said. “However, the people of Johnston continue to stand strong and united as they rebuild from this devastating storm, and the people of Rhode Island stand with them. I thank emergency responders and local officials for their quick and effective response.”
Johnston residents with tornado property damage can also call Chief Vieira at 401-757-3116 “in order to make arrangements to submit your documentation.” Electronic submissions, however, are encouraged.
“What are the thresholds (of damage) the County needs to meet?” Randolph asked.
“FEMA policy, threshold indicators are determined by State and County Per Capita data,” he explained. “Providence County threshold is $2,933,691.00 (County Population x $4.44). The State threshold $1,942,361.00 (State Population x $1.77).”
Will Johnston cross the damage threshold?
Vieira refused to speculate.
“At this time I am unable to answer this question,” he said Wednesday morning. “I’m still in the process of collecting the required data to submit to RIEMA who will validate the damage estimates from impacted communities and determine if the threshold was met.”