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FEMA promises recovery help for the long haul

In early September, heavy winds, extremely low humidity and already drought-stricken forestlands created ignition point conditions in Oregon. Wildfires, fast-moving and dangerous, crisscrossed the state in a swath of destruction. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said, “this is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” and requested a major presidential disaster declaration, which was granted on Sept. 15.

With the approval of the major presidential disaster declaration, the resources of the entire federal government became available under FEMA’s lead. A team of federal professionals comprising many agencies deployed to Oregon and quickly united with state and local emergency management in their response and recovery efforts. With massive evacuations underway — more than 40,000 people had to evacuate their homes — FEMA deployed three urban search and rescue teams and an incident support team to conduct search operations in the impacted counties. Mobile emergency operations vehicles provided emergency communication capabilities for the federal teams.

The major presidential disaster declaration also grants FEMA financial assistance to help state, tribal and local governments fund emergency response, recovery and protective measures. Thus far, FEMA’s Individual Assistance program has registered more than 20,000 individuals and families, and has provided more than $23 million to survivors for housing and other critical needs. The Individual Assistance application deadline — Nov. 16 — is fast approaching and we encourage anyone and everyone impacted by the wildfires to apply soon. We have also initiated programs for crisis counseling, unemployment assistance and disaster legal services.

FEMA’s public assistance program is providing substantial financial assistance to Oregon’s state agencies, tribes, local governments, and private nonprofit organizations for the cost of disaster-related debris removal, emergency protective measures to protect life and property, and permanent repair work to damaged or destroyed infrastructure.

To assist survivors whose residences were made uninhabitable or destroyed by the wildfires (the fire destroyed 4,026 residences) and those who are living in areas where other available housing is scarce or nonexistent, FEMA is providing temporary housing solutions. These solutions include financial help to secure long-term housing in the residential market and, in some cases, qualified survivors and their families can be provided temporary housing units (RVs, travel trailers or mobile homes) for up to 18 months to enable them to remain close to their jobs, schools, places of worship and their communities.

Another challenge facing Oregonians is an increased threat of flash flooding or debris flows in or around burn scars as a result of changes in the ground cover and landscape. FEMA and the state of Oregon have put together a team of federal, state and local scientists and engineers to analyze these hazards and recommend protective measures or other actions. Everyone should be aware of this potential hazard and watch for warnings and other information from local media, the National Weather Service or their local emergency management agency.

All Oregonians who have questions about repairing or rebuilding disaster-damaged homes or want to learn about building stronger and safer, including how to create defensible fire spaces, can contact FEMA Mitigation Specialists via email at FEMA-R10-MIT@fema.dhs.gov.

Again, the Individual Assistance deadline for applications is Nov. 16. We encourage all those directly impacted by the wildfire disaster to apply for assistance by visiting disasterassistance.gov, checking FEMA’s mobile app, or calling FEMA at 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585). Those who use a Relay service such as a videophone, InnoCaption or CapTel should update FEMA with their assigned number for that service.

In addition, those recovering from the trauma of their experience can call the Safe+Strong Helpline at 800-923-4357 or visit the website. Disaster legal services are also available by calling 503-684-3763 or 800-452-7636 or visiting this website.

The application deadline for Disaster Unemployment Assistance has been extended to Nov. 27, 2020. If you are self-employed or work on commission and lost your job as a result of the wildfires, you might be eligible for help. You can call 503-570-5000 or visit the website to find out more.

Whoever coined the term “pioneer spirit” surely must have had an Oregonian in mind! I am amazed at the tenacity and resilience, as well as the optimism and self-reliance, of those families whom I have met who were so devastatingly impacted by this wildfire disaster. Rebuilding and recovering won’t be a quick fix. Communities, families, individuals and groups must come together in the face of personal adversity and devastation to begin the long rebuilding process. It will take a whole community effort. FEMA is here for the long haul. We’re committed to help Oregonians recover and will not leave until the job is done.

Dolph Diemont is FEMA’s federal coordinating officer in charge of Oregon’s wildfire recovery.

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