East Hawaii News

UPDATE: Abercrombie Requests Major Disaster Declaration by Obama

August 21, 2014, 12:05 AM HST
* Updated August 21, 7:39 PM
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Updated August 21 at 7:30 p.m.

Before Hawai`i can receive federal assistance in the wake of Hurricane Iselle, President Obama must first declare his home state a major disaster area.

But that declaration can only occur after a formal request by Governor Abercrombie. According to Hawai`i State Civil Defense staff, a draft request should be gracing the governor’s desk sometime on Thursday, Aug. 21.

That scheduled draft comes nearly two weeks after Iselle made landfall over the Big Island’s Puna district, damaging nearly 150 homes and cutting power and road access for thousands of residents in the state of Hawai`i’s fastest growing population center.

Governor Abercrombie had earlier declared a state of emergency, freeing up the use of the Hawai`i National Guard and other resources at the state level.

A house damaged by Hurricane Iselle. Photo courtesy Valerie Maria Sophinos.

A house damaged by Hurricane Iselle. Photo courtesy Valerie Maria Sophinos.

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According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a delay between the time a disaster strikes and a formal request for federal assistance is not unusual, as protocol requires state officials to produce a Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) that proves an effective response is “beyond the capabilities of the State and the local governments…”

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Although it is customary for state officials to complete the PDA prior to requesting federal assistance, FEMA’s guidelines explain that governors have the right to delay filing a PDA in cases when a “obviously severe or catastrophic event occurs.”

State and federal officials are currently involved in the process of assessing damage to homes and public infrastructure, and it is unclear if Abercrombie will be making his formal request prior to assessors completing their work.

Update: Governor Abercrombie formally signed a request for a Presidential Disaster Declaration on Thursday afternoon, August 21.

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According to state Civil Defense staff, the last time Hawai`i was declared a major disaster area (after major flooding in 2008), it took approximately two weeks for then-Governor Linda Lingle’s request to be approved by President Bush.

Officials from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the state Emergency Management Agency, and the county of Hawai`i have been seen canvassing the Puna District in recent days.

Within the PDA, Abercrombie is required to furnish estimates on the amount and severity of damages, and the expected impact on the public and private sector.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie. Courtesy photo.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie. Courtesy photo.

State Civil Defense staff said Wednesday afternoon that residents who suffered damage during the hurricane should not rely solely on potential federal assistance, and should instead first contact their insurance agents directly.

While the level of federal assistance to be provided under a disaster declaration remains unclear, Civil Defense staff indicated that residents with severe property damage may in fact qualify for state and county-level tax relief.

Residents with significant damage can contact their county tax assessor for property tax information.  At the state tax level, residents can call (808)-974-6321.

Concerns regarding the insurance claims process can be directed to qualified insurance agents, or to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, at 1-800-468-4644.

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