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Rubio Presses FEMA Officials on Disaster Aid for Recent Pandhandle Tornadoes

Apr 6, 2016 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – At a Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee hearing today regarding federal disaster responses, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) questioned the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on its decision to decline recent disaster assistance requests for Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties after two tornadoes caused extensive damage to the region last month. Rubio encouraged FEMA to combine the damage assessments for the two tornadoes into one disaster request.
 
“Given that these storms occurred in the same week and were only 30 miles apart, I believe FEMA should be able to roll the damage totals from the area into one request,” said Rubio. “It’s my understanding that this has been done in the past for similar disasters. So what are the guidelines for assessing the cumulative effects from storms in close proximity and time?”
 
In response to Rubio’s question, FEMA Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery Elizabeth Zimmerman reiterated FEMA’s position that the two tornadoes in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties last month caused insufficient damage to require federal disaster assistance. She stated that the agency found “about 85 homes with major damage or destroyed. That was of a level that it was felt that the State would be able to handle that.”
 
“Florida is victim to multiple storms that occur within a short period of time,” responded Rubio. “In and of themselves, the one storm – the one tornado – may not reach the threshold, but if you combine all these events happening within the same geographic area, in close proximity of time and space, if you add those up it gets pretty dramatic. And Florida seems to be repeatedly impacted by this. I hope we can establish guidelines that allow us to meet that threshold, and I’m sure we’ll work with your agency to do that I hope.”
 
The video of Senator Rubio’s exchange with Elizabeth Zimmerman, FEMA’s Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery, can be found here and a broadcast quality video is available for download here.
 
A transcript of Rubio’s remarks and questions follows:
 
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship
April 6, 2016
Washington, D.C.
https://youtu.be/EBph8cCyt1w
 
RUBIO: “My question is with regards to both Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. They were ravaged by storms. The first tornado hit the town of Century, hit over 100 homes and commercial buildings, caused about $3.9 million in damages. And then the second hit Ferry Pass just a few days later, and it destroyed or severely damaged about 300 homes and buildings, and the total damage was about $18 million.
 
“So the Governor made these requests. And I wrote the President twice in support of two separate disaster declarations: first for an emergency declaration, which was denied; and then subsequently, a major disaster declaration, which was also denied.
 
“So the Pensacola News-Journal has reported that one of the reasons the state will not receive disaster assistance is because, independently, the storms failed to meet a damage cost threshold for federal assistance. The Journal says that FEMA refused – this is a quote, ‘refused to let the state roll the damage amounts from the two tornadoes into one request.’
 
“However, given that these storms occurred in the same week and were only 30 miles apart, I believe FEMA should be able to roll the damage totals from the area into one request. It’s my understanding that this has been done in the past for similar disasters. So what are the guidelines for assessing the cumulative effects from storms in close proximity and time?
 

 
“Okay, well, just in closing. I want to hopefully be able to work with you on this because this has been a recurring issue in Florida. Florida is victim to multiple storms that occur within a short period of time.
 
“In and of themselves, the one storm – the one tornado – may not reach the threshold but if you combine all these events happening within the same geographic area, in close proximity of time and space, if you add those up it gets pretty dramatic. And Florida seems to be repeatedly impacted by this. I hope we can establish guidelines that allow us to meet that threshold, and I’m sure we’ll work with your agency to do that I hope.”