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Feds OK winter disaster declaration
Barton, other counties hit by March blast
Gov. Laura Kelly

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced Thursday that her request for a federal disaster declaration for the winter storms that occurred in late March has been granted via action by the President Joe Biden administration. The request made May 3 covers Barton and a host of other central and western Kansas counties.

“This presidential disaster declaration  benefits the rural electric cooperatives in Barton County,” said Barton County Emergency Management Director Amy Miller. “Damages sustained by them are now eligible for assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Counties named in addition to Barton include Clark, Comanche, Edwards, Ellis, Ford, Graham, Gray, Hodgeman, Kiowa, Lane, Meade, Ness, Pawnee, Phillips, Rooks, Rush, Stafford, Trego and Wallace. 

Miller said she surveyed the government entities in Barton County for damages. “There were minimal to no costs reported by them for this event,” she said.

“This event is an excellent example of a different set of first responders during an emergency event – the electrical lineman in this case – that go out after an event to restore utilities and get things back to normal for citizens,” Miller said. “I think it is easy to overlook the men and women that spend long hours after a disaster restoring service for electricity, natural gas, water and sewer.”

“This federal disaster declaration will enable rural electric cooperatives to access the funding they need to get back on their feet,” said Kelly, who issued a Governor’s Declaration of Emergency March 20.

The declaration allows the cooperatives to apply for public assistance funds for emergency and permanent work for the repair or replacement of infrastructure, including utility lines, damaged by the disaster. It also activates the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program statewide for actions taken to prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property from natural hazards.

“Our staff in the Kansas Division of Emergency Management will be working closely with the counties named in the declaration,” said Maj. Gen. David Weishaar, the adjutant general and KDEM director said.

This request was due to two late winter storms that impacted western and parts of central Kansas beginning on March 17 with impacts lasting into March 22. Each storm produced sticky wet heavy snow combined with strong winds of 50 to 70 mph that damaged power poles and power lines. 

Many power outages occurred especially during the second winter storm due to the previous storm’s damage to the utility infrastructure and rural electric cooperatives.

On March 31, due to the severity of the damage reported by local officials and the KDEM requested a joint federal, state, and local survey of the damaged areas. On April 5, Governor Kelly requested an extension for enough time to complete the joint preliminary damage assessments which was approved until May 5.

Federal input

Earlier this month, Kansas U.S. Senators Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall, along with Kansas U.S. Representatives Ron Estes, Sharice Davids, Tracey Mann and Jake LaTurner, requested this federal declaration to help trigger the release of federal resources.

“Kansans are no strangers to the devastation caused by storms and high winds,” said Moran. “These federal resources will help these 20 counties in rural Kansas rebuild after two damaging winter storms so that local families and business can continue to thrive.”  

“Communities and individuals across Kansas are facing a long road to recovery following the storms that ripped through communities in March,” Marshall said. “I applaud President Biden for granting this federal disaster declaration that will provide our state with the support and resources needed to rebuild and restore our communities. My office stands at the ready to help Kansans in need of federal assistance as they work towards getting back on their feet.”