Governor Kathy Hochul has requested a Major Disaster Declaration from President Joe Biden to aid in the ongoing recovery efforts of communities that were affected by the historic blizzard that hit Western New York and Long Island in late December. The request, if granted, would allow federal financial assistance to cover damages and response operations in Western New York, the Finger Lakes, the North Country, and on Long Island. Hochul is also requesting direct funding to cover funeral expenses and crisis counseling for residents of Erie and Niagara Counties.
The declaration would provide financial assistance primarily through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Public Assistance Program, which would provide funding to local governments and eligible non-profits for debris removal, protective measures, and repairs to buildings and infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water and wastewater treatment facilities, critical infrastructure sites, schools, parks, and other facilities.
Following a disaster, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services’ (DHSES) Disaster Recovery Unit works with counterparts at FEMA and impacted local governments to assess damages and costs related to the disaster. Once assessments are complete, FEMA validates whether the state and impacted counties have reached the required federal damage thresholds. Following that process, the Governor can request a Major Disaster Declaration from the President.
The Governor is specifically requesting Public Assistance for Erie, Genesee, Niagara, St. Lawrence, and Suffolk Counties, including Snow Assistance for Erie, Genesee, Niagara, and St. Lawrence Counties to reimburse localities for snow removal operations. She is also requesting additional Funeral Assistance and Crisis Counseling for the residents of Erie and Niagara Counties.
In Western New York, the storm created blizzard conditions for 37 straight hours in Erie County, which is the longest recorded blizzard in the United States under 5,000 feet of elevation, and Niagara County experienced record-breaking snowfalls. Heavy snow and high winds created zero-visibility conditions for nearly two days, which were compounded by extreme cold and power outages. At the height of the storm, more than 80,000 households were without power, and New York State agency personnel conducted more than 650 rescues in Western New York. Despite the heroic efforts of New York’s emergency responders, 46 residents from Erie County and 1 resident from Niagara County tragically lost their lives.
On Long Island, the storm caused high winds and heavy rains, leading to widespread coastal flooding in Suffolk County, which left debris damage and thousands of power outages due to damaged infrastructure. Significant tidal surge also caused coastal erosion in the area.
Prior to the winter storm, Governor Hochul declared a statewide State of Emergency on December 23, and DHSES and other state agencies were in constant communication with the National Weather Service and local governments in the week leading up to the storm. DHSES’ Office of Emergency Management and Office of Fire Prevention and Control, the State Department of Transportation, Thruway Authority, State Police, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the Department of Environmental Conservation pre-deployed resources to the Western New York, Finger Lakes, and North Country regions ahead of the storm. Additional state resources were surged to heavily impacted areas, including a total of over 800 National Guard soldiers.
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