FEMA denies appeal for funding in deadly WNC mudslides


POLK Co., NC (WSPA) – Western North Carolina communities still dealing with damage from storms earlier this year will not receive financial help from the federal government. 

The state of North Carolina has learned FEMA denied an appeal for a major disaster declaration for the deadly mudslides in May.

It’s been almost six months since Mother Nature forever changed life off Highway 176 in Polk County. 

Patricia Case was killed in the mudslides and several properties were destroyed or damaged. 

“My birthday’s come and gone without my Mom. Thanksgiving’s next week without my mom. Christmas is around the corner,” said Case’s daughter Bridgette Levi. “I don’t have the words to describe how hard it is to try to pick up and move on.” 

Levi said they’re not getting help from the insurance company so it’s like they’re having to deal with loss in more ways than one. 

“My dad lost his home. My mom lost her life and they weren’t the only ones to lose,” Levi said. 

FEMA denied the state’s appeal for a major disaster declaration for the period of May 15 to May 31.

“I can’t believe that they felt like nothing is enough, you know, damage wasn’t enough – the loss wasn’t enough,” Levi said. 

In a letter to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, FEMA administrator Brock Long said the state’s appeal from September 19, 2018 was denied. The state requested individual assistance for 10 counties and public assistance for 13 counties. 

“After a thorough review of all the information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that the damage identified in your request resulted from separate and distinct events, none of which were of the severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local government,” the letter stated. 

“They say there’s too much time between the landslides and alberto but to us we were in the response mode between the landslides hit and preparing for Alberto so we thought we could get that declaration,” said Bobby Arledge, Polk Co. Emergency Management Director and Fire Marshal. “Very disappointed. We’ve got a lot of citizens and a lot of people that still got a lot of damage to homes. Got a lot of repairs to do that I feel sorry for.”

Arledge says it could’ve helped the county’s roughly $80,000 cost for overtime and other damage and it could’ve helped individuals with their properties.

“A lot of insurance didn’t cover land movement and landslides,” Arledge said. “We’re such a small, rural county, the amount of damage we had compares to the type of damage you see in larger cities. We’re not going to have the threshold to meet as some of the larger cities.”

Levi said her father still owes between $7,000 and $8,000 in costs for the destroyed home. 

“That FEMA money definitely could’ve cleared that debt to where he’s not stuck owing on a home that he will never be able to live in again,” said Levi. 

Arledge said they hope to get a state disaster declaration. 

“We do have a slim hope that the state will come in and do a state declaration,” said Arledge. “It’s not as much as a federal declaration would be but there’s still the chance of getting a state declaration to at least give some type of support to the citizens here.”

Governor Cooper’s office released a statement to 7News:

We’re disappointed with FEMA’s decision and are moving ahead to provide more state help for Western North Carolinians affected by these storms. State Emergency Management is reviewing damage assessments and coordinating with counties that may be eligible for a state disaster declaration.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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