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Rubble is all that remains of the home of Henry and Twila Bents of rural Sibley, Iowa, who survived the June 25, 2010 tornado by taking cover in their basement. (Kari Lucin/Daily Globe)

Disaster aid on way to region

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Disaster aid on way to region
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DES MOINES, Iowa -- O'Brien and Osceola counties were among those for which President Barack Obama authorized a presidential disaster declaration.


At least 32 counties in Iowa were impacted by flooding and storms beginning June 1.

The declaration will provide federal funding under the Public Assistance Program, which provides aid to rebuild damaged infrastructure such as roads and bridges and other public facilities, or to cover the costs of debris removal or emergency work during storms. The funding source breaks down as 75 percent federal, 15 percent state and 10 percent from local government.

In Osceola County, that will mean reimbursing county road crews and the Rural Electric Cooperative for all the work they did clearing trees and debris following the June 25 tornado that devastated parts of Sibley.

"Houses west of Sibley were where most of the damage came from," said Dan Bechler, Osceola County Emergency Management Director, noting that the town also sustained some flood damage.

Worst hit was Melvin, which saw 7 inches of rain in one night.

"There were four to five houses that I saw where the water level was at 4 to 5 feet in the basement," Bechler continued. "The mayor estimates between 25 and 30 homes had damage."

In his request to Obama, Gov. Chet Culver also asked for Individual Assistance Program funding, which provides assistance to home owners and small businesses, for eligible residents in 18 counties. That request is still under consideration. The 18 counties are Butler, Cherokee, Clay, Decatur, Emmet, Franklin, Hamilton, Howard, Lee, O'Brien, Osceola, Palo Alto, Ringgold, Taylor, Union, Warren, Webster and Wright.

Bechler said he's been informing Osceola County homeowners they can apply independently for Individual Assistance funding because the state is also under a disaster declaration, but aid is yet to come.

"Until FEMA gets going here, there's not much we can do for them," he said.

O'Brien County's weather problems "started toward the end of June with heavy rains in the south part of the county," said emergency management director Anne Koontz. "Lots of folks down there in Sutherland, Paulina, Calumet area and in Primghar had heavy rains, groundwater seeping into the basements. ... Then we had some more rain, this time the north end of the county got it -- equal opportunity."

Windstorms knocked down trees and many roads were washed out around culverts, and the Public Assistance Program funding will go to fix roads and bridges, as well as compensate city workers for overtime accrued.

Residents of O'Brien County may also apply for a state Department of Human Services grant if they had a furnace, water heater or the like damaged in the flooding. Rural residents should call the sheriff's office, while city residents should call their city hall.

Teams of local, state and federal officials are currently assessing damages in 20 counties. The assessments are expected to be completed by Sunday.

"I am grateful the President has moved so quickly to grant our request to designate a third of our counties as disaster areas, making them eligible for public assistance," Culver said in a news release. "There is much work to be done to help flooded communities across the state recover, and the President's action provides some relief for the repair of public assets. ... In anticipation that some Iowa counties will be proclaimed as eligible for individual assistance, I have directed appropriate agencies in my Administration to put the finishing touches on a state-based assistance program similar to the successful 'Jumpstart' effort that moved desperately needed resources into Cedar Rapids and other communities affected by the floods of 2008."

The Presidential Disaster Declaration includes funding to conduct hazard mitigation activities for the entire state. With this funding, Iowa will be able to minimize the impact of future natural disasters by taking steps now to strengthen existing infrastructure.

In addition, Culver issued a proclamation making it easier for residents of counties under disaster proclamations to replace vehicle title certificates, registration cards and license plates lost due to flooding. The proclamation suspends the fee and the five-day waiting period for issuance of a replacement copy of an original title certificate, registration card, plate or pair of plates. The suspensions are effective immediately and are effective through Aug. 27.

"I'm sure the farmers are hurting, too, with the flooded fields," Koontz added. "I've been here 26 years and I don't think I've seen anything like this. So many trees blew over that the Primghar courthouse square looks like a battle zone."