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Gov. Kim Reynolds to submit federal disaster declaration request Monday

Gov. Kim Reynolds holds news conference on derecho damage in Cedar Rapids on Friday, August 14, 2020. (Photo: Caroline Cummings)
Gov. Kim Reynolds holds news conference on derecho damage in Cedar Rapids on Friday, August 14, 2020. (Photo: Caroline Cummings)
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Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state will submit a federal disaster declaration request on Monday, one week after the derecho tore through the state and inflicted unprecedented destruction.

The governor traveled to Cedar Rapids, the hardest hit place in the state, for a news conference on Friday. She said President Trump has pledged support to the state and is “standing ready” to approve the disaster declaration paperwork, which she hopes would happen as earlier as Monday.

Such a declaration would bring federal resources to the state, including assistance for home repairs and utility maintenance.

“I want Cedar Rapids and Linn County and all of those who have been impacted by this natural disaster to know that the entire state of Iowa stands with you,” Reynolds said.

When asked why the application is being sent Monday, seven days after the storm hit the ground, Reynolds said it takes time to compile the evidence to show the scope of the disaster.

“There is criteria that you have to make,” she said. “I mean I asked for today, that’s my goal. But realistically by the time we collect the information, that’s how long it’s going to take.”

Joyce Flinn, director of Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, echoed Reynolds, saying there is a lot of “detailed” information that goes into a disaster declaration because it brings significant resources to the state. She said they are including estimates about debris and damage to the electrical grid.

“One of the things we have to do is give the federal government an idea of the magnitude of the disaster,” Flinn said.

FEMA guidelines on the declaration process say there needs to a preliminary damage assessment, or PDA, to estimate the extent of the disaster in a governor’s request. But there is an exception “when an obviously severe and catastrophic event occurs,” at which point “the governor’s request may be submitted prior to the PDA.”

KGAN-TV Iowa’s News Now asked Flinn after the news conference why, given that FEMA guidance, the state didn’t submit the request sooner. She said it still takes time to compile what can be a 20-page application.

Democratic Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer, who represents the region, urged the governor to mobilize more guardsmen and to submit an expedited request for a presidential disaster declaration.

“This needs to be done as fast as possible,” Finkenauer said of the declaration. "This is a disaster we’ve never seen before. It was like a hurricane coming through the Midwest."

At least 100 Iowa National Guardsmen are on the ground in Cedar Rapids to assist with recovery. The request was authorized Thursday night and they arrived Friday.

Iowans have asked why they didn’t arrive sooner as tens of thousands are still without power in the August heat. At one point, 97% of Linn County was in the dark.

Adjutant General Benjamin Corell acknowledged those concerns on Friday.

“Well we’re here. We’ve come. And we’re ready to get to work,” he said.

The governor has defended the decision as a matter of necessary coordination.

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“As your city emergency managers and local emergency managers assess what the damage is, we need to be able to identify what that mission is that we expect the National Guard to do,” Reynolds said.

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