There’s no doubt the storms this spring have been difficult for many of our communities. In March, a bomb cyclone left part of our state underwater and part of our state in dangerous blizzard conditions. April’s Winter Storm Wesley sent another two feet of snow to many areas. The storms damaged our roads, bridges, and culverts while also impacting livestock, homes, and businesses.
On March 15, I issued a statewide emergency declaration because of the extreme impact of the storms. I understand this process can be confusing, so let me take this opportunity to explain it.
Emergency declarations open the door for the state to use special money from our Disaster Fund. The money can be used to reimburse state agencies for extraordinary resources they provided to counties. The emergency declaration also allows for the activation of the South Dakota National Guard if necessary.
We’ve needed these special resources. During the bomb cyclone, I deployed the National Guard to Pine Ridge to distribute clean water after floods washed out a tribal waterline. We deployed swift water rescue teams, utility tracked vehicles, water pumps, sandbags, inmate crews for sandbagging operations, and sandbagging machines throughout the state. Additionally, we provided technical assistance to counties dealing with the aftermath of the storms and activated the State Emergency Operations Center to help coordinate the state’s response.
And while an emergency declaration opens funding avenues for the state, it also gives us the option to request a Presidential Disaster Declaration where we can ask for federal funds to aid recovery efforts.
This is a longer process that requires coordination from local, state, and federal leaders. Per FEMA’s process, the state has 30 days after the end of an incident to submit a declaration request. Because of the moving water that accompanied the bomb cyclone, the incident is ongoing and has been extended. Flood waters are anticipated to crest in various locations in the weeks to come.
Once the incident concludes, county, tribal, and local government leaders will gather damage data, compile estimated damage costs, and submit a report to the state. The state then works with FEMA to validate the damage assessments. I will then evaluate the information to determine if a Presidential Disaster Declaration is warranted and should be requested. I look forward to seeing this process through in the coming weeks.
We have an obligation to help our counties, and we will. I will continue working with leaders on the local and federal levels to make sure we are using every available tool to help our communities recover from these storms.