Colin Warren-Hicks
 
| Pensacola News Journal

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Despite President Donald Trump’s declaration that a major disaster exists in Florida from Hurricane Sally, Santa Rosa County remained illegible Thursday for two categories of federal aid that officials say are vital in helping with recovery efforts.

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The White House included Santa Rosa County among the 13 Florida counties in the disaster area that are eligible for compensation for their “emergency protective measures” taken before, during and after the storm. 

Escambia County received the major declaration, unlocking Federal Emergency Management Agency aid for local governments and nonprofits for emergency work and repair such as debris removal and repairs to roads and bridges, water control facilities, public buildings, public utilities, parks and other recreational facilities.

Escambia County will get 75% of its costs related to Hurricane Sally repaid by the federal government.

The other counties, including Santa Rosa County, are so far only eligible for emergency protective measures.

Santa Rosa County’s storm damage — estimated at over $20 million — far exceeds the $587,000 it spent on emergency protective measures, according to Emergency Management Director Brad Baker.

Baker said that Santa Rosa County leaders were pursuing strategies Thursday to gain eligibility for two additional types of FEMA funding — public assistance and individual assistance.

“It’s good to have the money for the emergency protective measures,” Baker said. “But it’s not what we’re looking for. We need the big-ticket items.”

The “big-ticket items” will be bills for repairing storm damage to public facilities and homes and the price of cleaning up debris.

Hurricane Sally is estimated to have caused $18 million of damage to public spaces in the county’s interior and another $8.3 million in damage to its beaches.

Fortunately, Baker did expect Santa Rosa County to qualify for public assistance to help cover some of those costs within next few days, despite being illegible as of Thursday, he said. 

State Sen. Doug Broxson, who expressed frustration over the delay, was also hopeful a major declaration will be announced soon as FEMA inspectors made their way down the Panhandle.

“We have submitted all of our numbers to the state and FEMA, and we are anticipating that we’ll be included to receive public assistance,” Baker said. “FEMA just has to validate the numbers from the state and then run that up to Washington to get us included.”

While Escambia County is so far the only Florida county eligible to receive public assistance to repair damage caused by Hurricane Sally, even they did not receive eligibility for its individual citizens to request federal assistance from FEMA. So far, damage estimates in Escambia County are above $180 million.

On Thursday, Santa Rosa County officials took representatives from state government and FEMA on a tour through some of its hardest hit areas in a bid to prove that local homeowners desperately need FEMA’s help.

“It’s called a joint assessment,” Baker explained. “State, FEMA and local representatives go to these individuals’ houses who have bad damage.

“We are taking them to the more-severely hit areas,” he continued. “So, they can see the damage done in order to try to get an individual assistance declaration through FEMA.”

Approximately 130,000 Santa Rosa County residents had their houses damaged by flooding during Hurricane Sally.

FEMA representatives were shown homes in Floridatown, Tiger Point and various subdivisions located in Pace as examples of the devastation caused by the floods.

To help Santa Rosa County administrators’ efforts to convince the federal government to allow individuals to request federal aid, residents have been asked to submit descriptions and pictures of their damaged homes to the Emergency Management Department’s online portal at bit.ly/32X3PxM. 

A link to the portal to report damage can also be found on county’s website at SantaRosa.fl.gov. 

Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at colinwarrenhicks@pnj.com or 850-435-8680.

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