VA tornado victims won't receive federal aid - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

VA tornado victims won't receive federal aid

Debris remained on the ground nearly a month after tornadoes struck Tappahannock. (Source: NBC12) Debris remained on the ground nearly a month after tornadoes struck Tappahannock. (Source: NBC12)
RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

Victims of February's deadly tornadoes in Virginia will not be able to request federal aid as FEMA denied Gov. Terry McAuliffe's request for assistance.

The governor sent a letter to President Barack Obama on March 25 asking for help for residents of Appomattox, Essex and Sussex who suffered massive damage in the Feb. 24 storms.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied the request saying the damage "was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the commonwealth, affected local governments and voluntary agencies."

The Essex County Board Chairman says he's hurt these communities won't get the help he says they need. Now the money to fill in the gaps could 
be ripped away from schools, public safety, and other civic projects.

Stanley Langford, the Essex County Board Chair, says he feels like the federal government let them down.

"I feel we got lost in the numbers," said Langford.

The numbers he's referring to are the formula FEMA uses to determine if state qualifies for federal assistance.

"We end up with $7 million to $10 million in our area in damage," said Langford. "That is huge to us. It all has a direct impact on the citizen at the end of the day."

Legislation has been introduced that would change the way FEMA decides how it’s going to allocate federal assistance money. Many lawmakers all across the country feel the formula FEMA is using now is flawed.

FEMA decides how it’s going to give out money based on the state's population as a whole, not the individual areas that are hit. This is problematic for small communities like Appomattox, Essex and Sussex counties.

These areas don't have as many people living there. They don't have as many structures to potentially be damaged by a storm. The dollar amount is not going to add up as quickly as if the same storm - or say, even a smaller storm - were to hit an area with more people, where the dollars add up quickly.

Many lawmakers say that the way FEMA is doing it now is always going to hurt small communities.

"The system is broke," said Langford. "I really feel that FEMA needs to look at this because Essex County, I mean the devastation is 25 percent of our budget."

The Commonwealth plans to appeal FEMA's decision.

Two-year-old Ivan Lewis was killed in the storms, along with his uncle Devine Stringfield, 26, and a friend, Larry Turner, 50. All the victims were all in a mobile home on Maifield Avenue in Waverly when the EF-1 tornado struck. Witnesses say a mobile home that was ripped apart and officials say the three killed were found hundreds of yards away.

The National Weather Service says the maximum wind speeds of the tornado reached between 100 and 110 miles per hour and the tornado cut a path up to 300 yards wide for nine miles. Seven others were injured in the storms.

The tornado began south-southwest of Waverly, moved swiftly through the town and ending about five miles north-northeast of the town. Numerous trees were downed, along with several other damages. 

Sixty-three buildings were damaged, including homes and businesses. Seven buildings were destroyed, and 37 people were displaced, according to the public safety coordinator in Waverly.

“We're moving as fast as we can, but in 30 days we have to submit to FEMA for reimbursement. The threshold is about $11 million. We don’t know today, but my gut is the extent of the damage will exceed that,” said Governor McAuliffe after touring the damage.

An EF-3 tornado with winds up to 140 miles per hour cut a 28-mile path from the Middle Peninsula to the Northern Neck, reaching its highest speeds on Kino Road in Essex County. Three modular homes were destroyed by the tornado, which was 400 to 500 yards wide at times. At least 25 people were injured and at least 30 buildings damaged, according to State Police.

The tornadoes also killed a man in Appomattox County as his house was destroyed by a funnel cloud that swept through the Evergreen and Red House part of the county. 

Across Appomattox, widespread damage was reported. State police responded to several reports of downed trees due to the storm system that passed through the area. Several buildings were damaged along Route 460 and Route 727 in the Evergreen and Promised Land neighborhoods.

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