October 30, 2014

Southwest Iowa tornado damage won’t qualify for federal funds

A car flipped by at tornado near Creston's hospital

Damage in southwest Iowa from last weekend’s twin tornadoes is climbing into the many millions of dollars, but the price tag apparently isn’t high enough for two hard-hit communities to qualify for federal aid.

 Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin says it’s an unfortunate fact and the rules are in place for a reason.

“We’ve spoken with Homeland Security about this,” Senator Harkin says. “They’ve noted that it’s quite unlikely that Thurman would be eligible for a presidential disaster declaration, given the level of loss and the expected insured rate. The same would be true also, I’ve heard, of Creston.”

In the small town of Thurman, virtually every home had at least some twister damage, while 14 houses were destroyed and 28 more were heavily damaged. In Creston, the hospital and community college were among the larger structures that were hit by the tornado, in addition to a number of homes and other businesses.

Governor Terry Branstad has declared Union and Fremont counties as state disaster areas, but Harkin says that’s probably as far as it’ll go. Harkin says, “What you look at are the uninsured losses and they’re well below the limits that would be required for a presidential declaration at the national level.”

It’s not that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is broke, Harkin says. FEMA has the money, he adds, it’s just that Creston and Thurman won’t qualify for it.) “Obviously, budgets are tight,” Harkin says. “We’ll do whatever we can to assist and help but there are pretty set requirements for what is a national disaster and what is a local or state-type of disaster.”

Both tornadoes that hit Saturday were classified as E-F-2s, with winds topping out around 125 to 135 miles an hour.