Beshear: Eastern Kentucky moving toward stabilization after floods
The death toll from the flooding in eastern Kentucky remains at 39 with two people still missing after July and August’s historic and deadly disaster.
As repairs and recovery efforts continue, state lawmakers startedmeeting this week for a special legislative session geared towards disaster aid. The session – which began Wednesday and is expected to last three days – has already seen plans emerge for the establishment of the EKSAFE Funds, or Eastern Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies, and Beshear is encouraged by its progress.
“This is going well. Thus far it has been entirely nonpartisan. The conversations have been productive,” Beshear said. “It is based significantly on the fund we put together for Western Kentucky where we were able to deploy dollars very quickly.”
He also provided updated statistics and highlighted recovery and relief programs throughout the press conference.
The majority of the nearly 400 Kentuckians in alternative housing after the disaster are staying in state parks and the rest are in schools, churches and community centers.
“We have got to get them ultimately into non-congregate sheltering, whether that is a lodge or a travel trailer,” Beshear said. “Then ultimately we got to get people out of our lodges and hotels into better intermediate housing. That is moving from the emergency phase to the stabilization phase.”
The state has placed 94 travel trailers in four locations in the area with plans to place trailers in three more locations. Of those travel trailers, 76 are currently occupied with displaced Kentuckians.
“We're going to have about another 100 on the way in between new ones that we have purchased, and it looks like once the agreement’s finalized, we're going to be able to get a lot of them from Louisiana, that are sitting and waiting, and will be really cost effective,” Beshear said.
The governor emphasized that stays in these trailers were not limited to sixty or ninety days, despite concerns. However, people in the trailers will be checked in every 30 days by case management. To be eligible for travel trailer housing, occupants must be registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We know that rebuilding is going to be years in the making,” Beshear said. “We're not going to kick anybody out on the street.”
Utilities and communication infrastructure were also hit hard, but they are getting back online. Beshear said wireless providers are now reporting they are fully restored in the area. Additionally, there are only 107 power outages left to address and only 647 service connections without water – down from nearly 40,000. More than 7,000 people are still under a boil water advisory and only three water systems have limited operation.
Beshear said Perry County community of Buckhorn is still without water and their neighbors in Hazard are still in process of restoring their own water lines as other organizations check to see if there’s ways to share water supplies.
“This is an area where the infrastructure was just wiped out,” Beshear said.
One possibility is an unused emergency water line from Breathitt County, set to be tested in the next two weeks, that might be able to supply water to about half the city.
Beshear said, so far, there’s been $49.1 million in FEMA aid distributed to eastern Kentucky flood victims.
Over 12,000 applications associated with this disaster have been filed with the agency and just over 6,000 of those have been approved. The governor said only 2,553 applications have been deemed ineligible and encouraged people to continue to go in and see FEMA officials in person about applications.
“FEMA is doing about six new things they haven't done anywhere else - from calling everybody who has been denied to a texting program,” Beshear said. “But I think the biggest one that they're doing is now having approval authority on the ground in the disaster recovery centers.”
The governor praised FEMA for increasing their approval rating to about 50% while still calling on them to do better. He also announced that disaster unemployment and SNAP benefits have been approved. Beshear encouraged those impacted to apply through the Kentucky Career Center.
The National Flood Insurance Program has paid out about $9.1 million and the Small Business Administration has approved $20.3 million.
With the floods occurring just before the start of the school year, Beshear provided an update on the state of schools in the area. He said of the 25 schools in the flood-hit area, 14 were already in session, six will start next week and four will start in September.
The Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund has received about $8.3 million in donations so far. The funds have been used to pay for the funerals of those who passed away in the storm. The process has started to give payments of $500 to uninsured renters and homeowners in addition to their assistance from FEMA.
“Nobody has to apply for the money,” Beshear said. “If you're eligible, we're going to know because we're going to get the data directly from FEMA as it updates to get these dollars out to you”
The debris removal process has led to more than 15,000 tons of debris removed from state and county right-of-way. Along with debris removal, the governor shared that of the more than one thousand bridges inspected, about 75 of them need to be replaced. The state has also replaced more than 3,000 drivers licenses and IDs.
The governor also announced an extension to the deadline for the $75 million in tourism funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to provide those in eastern Kentucky with a fair amount of time to apply.