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No word on presidential disaster declaration

The news that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was looking for office space Wednesday in Mitchell had some people speculating that a presidential disaster declaration was imminent, but a FEMA spokeswoman said it is just standard procedure.

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The news that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was looking for office space Wednesday in Mitchell had some people speculating that a presidential disaster declaration was imminent, but a FEMA spokeswoman said it is just standard procedure.

If the president issues a disaster declaration, FEMA will establish a temporary field office. FEMA is preparing for that possibility by looking at vacant office spaces.

"We're looking at various locations all across the state, from Pierre to Aberdeen to Watertown to Mitchell and Yankton -- just all over the state in cities the state has identified that may be able to support something for us," said Laurie Hassell, a FEMA public affairs officer.

She stressed that the office search is not an indication of whether a disaster will be declared by the president.

"There's absolutely no correlation," she said. "It's just absolute standard practice."

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FEMA teams have been in the area assessing the damage done by the hail, heavy rain, flooding, strong winds and tornadoes that struck eastern South Dakota two weeks ago. The assessments will be used in determining whether federal aid should be made available via a disaster declaration.

Davison County Emergency Management Director Jim Montgomery said FEMA's search for office space led it to the vacant former Econofoods building in Mitchell. He said FEMA was considering visiting the vacant former Fullerton Lumber Company building and the vacant former Saterlie Drug building at Third and Main.

Montgomery said FEMA is looking for up to 15,000 square feet of office space with parking for up to 80 vehicles and three tractor-trailers.

Hassell said the search for office space is running concurrently with the damage assessments. The assessments of damage suffered by individuals, such as homeowners, were completed Monday. Assessments of public damage, such as flooded roads and disrupted utilities, are ongoing and should be completed soon.

If a presidential declaration is issued, federal assistance could be made available to qualifying individuals, local governments and non-profit organizations.

Hassell said the assistance, if it comes, will not cover costs already covered by insurance. FEMA assistance, she said, is mainly for essential needs.

Ed Olson, whose Mitchell home was badly damaged by a tornado, said he received a visit from a FEMA assessment team but will probably not be eligible for government assistance. He thinks his insurance will cover most of his losses.

"I have good insurance, with a good carrier," Olson said. "I met with the adjuster yesterday, and it's pretty clear to me that the numbers will never work for the insurance company to tell us to rebuild it. We would have to take the main floor off."

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Hassell said people who suffered storm damage should document it and begin cleaning it up, rather than wait for federal or state assistance. Those who qualify can apply for reimbursement later if a federal disaster is declared.

A state disaster declaration was issued by Gov. Mike Rounds May 7. That declaration allowed local governments to request state help in the protection of lives and property, but it did not include the application process for cost reimbursement that would be included in a federal declaration.

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