While it’s of little comfort, the people of Oso who are waiting for a federal buyout of their property should know they are not alone. So many disasters happen in this country every year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s slow response time is understandable, if frustrating. Some Hurricane Katrina victims still await help. Some Superstorm Sandy victims were billed later for earlier federal financial help received. And some disaster victims don’t get any personal federal financial help at all.
For example, the March 22, 2014 Oso mudslide that killed 43 people and wiped out dozens of homes was followed that summer by the Carlton Complex Fire in Eastern Washington that raged between July 9 and Aug. 5, and scorched 300,000 acres. The federal government offered money to rebuild the Okanogan County Public Utilities District and public infrastructure. But FEMA denied help to the residents of the more than 300 homes that were lost in Okanogan County — with less than half fully insured, leaving county and state officials frustrated.
These are just two disaster examples in one state, in one year. For every major disaster, such as hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Irene, there are hundreds more “everyday” tornadoes, tropical storms, floods, earthquakes and mudslides, which create thousands of victims every year, survivors of which seek federal aid.
Specific financial aid, such as the buyout of property, does take time and requires “a complicated mix of federal, state and local agencies,” as Herald reporters Rikki King and Noah Haglund reported Monday on the Oso residents.
In June, FEMA announced it would award the county $6.6 million in grants for the first round of voluntary buyouts in the slide zone. The FEMA Hazard Grant covers 75 percent of the cost, with the state Military Department and the county splitting the rest. The county has received a Housing and Urban Development grant to cover its portion. The Snohomish County Council is scheduled to vote Aug. 19 on actions that would allow the county to begin the buyout process.
While the process is indeed a long wait, the Oso residents at least have a chance at a buyout, unlike the Okanogan property owners, and others across the country that FEMA decides not to help.
What is of major comfort in the midst of past and present disasters is the amazing generosity for victims that comes from fellow citizens and charitable groups. The December, 2014, Herald article, “Millions spent after Oso mudslide, but generosity can’t be measured,” detailed dozens of such acts, financial and otherwise, that happened in the wake of the disaster. Many local and state banks forgave mortgages. And a year later, some Oso victims created a group, Oso Hope, to help send supplies and gifts to other disaster victims.
And in Okanogan County, where they were denied FEMA funds, community members have spent the past 12 months taking recovery into their own hands, KREM News reported. The latest goal: rebuilding 42 of the houses lost with nothing but donated time and resources.
FEMA holds the big checkbook, but it’s our fellow citizens who build, and rebuild community, and create it wherever they are.