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The December storm on Grand Island. (Photo by Alice Gerard)
The December storm on Grand Island. (Photo by Alice Gerard)

Hochul requests major disaster declaration from Biden to secure assistance for communities impacted by December storm


Fri, Feb 24th 2023 01:20 pm

Declaration would provide federal disaster assistance for local governments in Erie, Genesee, Niagara, St. Lawrence and Suffolk counties; would also provide funeral assistance and crisis counseling for communities in Western New York

√ Says from a historic blizzard in Western New York to high winds and heavy rain causing flooding on Long Island, catastrophic winter storm caused far-reaching impacts

√ Hochul previously secured federal emergency declaration on Dec. 26 to provide initial support for response and rescue operations

Gov. Kathy Hochul has requested a major disaster declaration from President Joe Biden to support the ongoing recovery of communities impacted by the late-December storm, which caused historic blizzard conditions in Western New York, as well as significant coastal flooding on Long Island. If granted, this declaration would allow for federal financial assistance for communities in Western New York, the Finger Lakes, the North Country, and on Long Island to cover damages and some response operations. The governor is also requesting direct funding to cover funeral expenses and crisis counseling for residents of Erie and Niagara counties.

This effort builds upon federal assistance already secured by Hochul through a Dec. 26 federal emergency declaration that supported response and rescue operations throughout the six-day event.

"I have submitted a formal request to President Biden to secure a major disaster declaration to support communities across New York impacted by the devastating winter storm that hit our state in December," Hochul said. "Federal assistance will support my administration's ongoing efforts to help New Yorkers continue to recover from this once-in-a-generation storm.”

A major disaster declaration secures financial assistance from the federal government, primarily through FEMA's public assistance program, to provide funding to local governments and eligible nonprofits for debris removal, protective measures, and repairs to buildings and infrastructure, including roads, bridges, water and wastewater treatment facilities, critical infrastructure sites, schools, parks and other facilities.

A press release explained, “Following a disaster, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services' disaster recovery unit works directly with counterparts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and impacted local governments to assess damages caused by, and costs related to, the disaster. Once these assessments are complete, FEMA validates whether the state and impacted counties have reached the required federal damage thresholds. Following that process, the governor then requests a major disaster declaration from the president.”

With the damage assessment process now complete, Hochul 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.

√ Additional funeral assistance and crisis counseling for the residents of Erie and Niagara counties.

Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray said, "This historic storm began as a statewide event with a complex forecast of snow, ice, strong winds and extreme wind chill. These conditions created a nearly two-day blizzard in the Buffalo area that became hazardous for prepositioned emergency responders, snow plows and utility crews to navigate. Our team was proud to work alongside all of our emergency response partners involved in the event, and I look forward to continuing to work with Gov. Hochul to help our communities recover."

Hochul’s team noted that, in Western New York, there were 37 straight hours of blizzard-like conditions in Erie County, which is the longest recorded blizzard in the U.S. under 5,000 feet of elevation, and Niagara County experienced record-breaking snowfalls. A mix of heavy snow and high winds created zero-visibility conditions for nearly two days, conditions that were compounded by extreme cold and power outages. At the height of the storm, more than 80,000 households were without power.

New York state agency personnel conducted more than 650 rescues in Western New York throughout the course of this storm, and local officials rescued hundreds more. 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, high winds and heavy rains from the storm brought widespread coastal flooding in Suffolk County, leaving 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, Hochul declared a statewide state of emergency on Dec. 23. 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, State Parks the Department of Environmental Conservation predeployed 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.

About the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services

The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services provides leadership, coordination and support to prevent, protect against, prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate disasters and other emergencies. For more information, find it on Facebook, on Twitter or Instagram, or visit its website.


Langworthy & Higgins request FEMA to categorize Winter Storm Elliott as a snowstorm of record

Leaders seek to gain additional federal funding as damage exceeds federally determined per-capita indicators

In a letter to President Joe Biden and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Congressman Nick Langworthy and Congressman Brian Higgins are asking FEMA to recognize Winter Storm Elliott as a snowstorm of record, and support granting New York state a major disaster declaration that includes snow assistance.

Langworthy and Higgins, who both serve communities in Western New York impacted by the storm, write, “While FEMA, New York State, and local applicants continue to work jointly on Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDAs), the storm's damage is expected to exceed federally determined per-capita indicators. However, without recognizing the record blizzard conditions and granting snow assistance, our communities will not be eligible for the funds we greatly need.”

A press release stated, “Sustained blizzard conditions starting on Dec. 23, 2022, battered Western New York for over 37 hours, making this storm the longest-lasting blizzard in New York state history by a factor of two, and the longest blizzard in the continental United States below 5,000 feet of elevation. As a result, the record-breaking storm claimed the lives of more than 40 people.”

Read the letter in full here.

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