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Federal aid comes in wake of ice storm

Cities and power companies will receive federal aid in wake of ice storm. The wreckage from the ice storm in early April, destroyed trees and downed power lines, as shown in this picture from Freeman. (Jordan Steffen/Republic)

Douglas County will receive a federal reimbursement for an estimated $30,000 in damages from an April ice storm that caused power outages to customers of East River Electric Power Cooperative and Douglas Electric.

The electric cooperatives, not city governments or the county, will receive the funds to offset the cost of installing new poles and to pay for repairs to the power grid.

Southeast Electric is the only applicant for a federal reimbursement in McCook County, and has sustained $50,000 in grid damages.

In Hutchinson County, the ice storm took down trees and poles alike. Southeastern Electric Cooperative, Inc. and Freeman will apply to be reimbursed for the damages, but costs were lightened because Southeastern Electric buried lines following the Thanksgiving Blizzard of 2005. Costs were incurred by Freeman for the removal of debris and overtime pay for the city's police department.

Hanson County was not able to declare a disaster because the county sustained less than $10,000 in damages, and therefore did not qualify for aid. The county did open up a shelter, where a few stayed due to a lack of power.

"We didn't have trees going down and buildings caving in," Hanson County Emergency Manager Kevin Kayser said. "We just had snow and no power."

For a city or electrical company to apply for reimbursement, $1,000 in damages had to be sustained.

Final damage assessments won't be available until July, but preliminary estimates show approximately $11.4 million in damages throughout the entire state from the removal of debris, snow removal and electrical power restoration. Fieldwork for assessing the damages will be finished by the end of the month, and an estimate for federal reimbursements will be calculated a few weeks after.

"Some of the work is still being done," said Randy Welch, an External Affairs Officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Final figures may be quite different."

The storm froze the state April 8-10 and left more than 115,000 without power. A presidential disaster declaration was signed for Douglas, Hutchinson, Lincoln, McCook, Minnehaha, Shannon and Turner counties, along with the Pine Ridge Reservation in Shannon County. The May 10 declaration allowed for federal aid, up to 75 percent, to be reimbursed to state and local governments, along with certain nonprofit organizations, for recovery efforts. The state will reimburse an additional 10 percent.

Before a disaster can be declared, a state typically must sustain at least $1 million in damages.

Disasters can be called in advance for events such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods.

Compared to South Dakota's Thanksgiving ice storm in 2005, Stiefvater said pre-disaster assessments and response times were much quicker.

"It was as fast as I've ever seen it," Stiefvater said.

A major disaster is declared when a strange or unusual event occurs that is beyond the capacity of what state or local governments can handle on their own.

"A lot of rural electric cooperatives, if they were to take on costs on their own, it would be a big strain on them and their customers," Welch said.

Counties are the first to declare emergencies, followed by states. The declarations are sent to the White House. A presidential emergency opens up possibilities for aid for individuals and governments. In the case of the ice storm, aid for individuals is not available.

"There wasn't that much extensive damage to homes," Welch said.

Welch said that the fieldwork, including assessments, should be finished within two months.

"The money can begin flowing at any time during that period," Welch said.