Biden visits ‘heartbreaking’ Kentucky flood damage

WASHINGTON — On his first official trip after recovering from the coronavirus, President Biden flew to eastern Kentucky on Monday and committed federal resources to families whose homes had been boarded up or taken away by some of the worst floods in state history.

After flying over stranded cars and buses and landing to find overturned homes and a bombed-out school, Mr Biden told local officials that his administration would cover the cost of the emergency response to the torrential rains and flooding that left at least 37 dead.

“Everyone has an obligation to help,” said Mr. Biden, who stood outside a condemned house. He added that he wanted to ensure the area is rebuilt in a way that makes communities more resilient to deadly storms, floods and natural disasters which he described as a consequence of climate change.

Biden also said legislation the Senate passed on Sunday, which includes the largest-ever spending by the federal government to slow global warming and reduce demand for fossil fuels, would help Kentuckians rebuild. His comments were likely the start of a new campaign to galvanize Democratic voters around his legislative victory ahead of the midterm elections.

But it will take time for these investments to have an impact on disaster-prone communities. Even with federal funds available, many poor and rural areas do not have sufficient capacity to rebuild effectively. Businesses often lack flood protection systems and many homes remain on plains prone to rising waters.

Few flood-affected homes in Kentucky’s hardest-hit areas had flood insurance, according to federal data.

Land in Kentucky built to serve coal miners working under the hills and mountains has been especially vulnerable to flooding after many mines closed, leaving homes unprotected from rising waters in nearby rivers. Mr. Biden said Monday that the state would find help in his bipartisan infrastructure package, which has tripled, to $ 700 million a year, a program intended to reduce flood damage by buying or raising houses threatened by flooding.

“It’s really going to take a holistic approach to rebuilding in this way, and it goes straight to human nature,” said Chad Berginnis, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers. “I imagine after all this suffering I would just like to get back to normal. That’s the human side of it all, but it’s so important that we pause and rebuild thoughtfully so that the next flooding does not occur.

This human cost was evident on Monday. Mr Biden said it was “incredibly heartbreaking” to see stranded vehicles washed away in streams and large piles of debris. Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky said the death toll was likely to rise to 38 people.

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Beshear also said the federal system put in place to help those recovering from a disaster could improve, noting that “too many” Kentucky residents have been denied help from the Federal Health Agency. handling emergencies due to technical errors in the application process.

“Too little is paid to those who go through the system,” Beshear said. “The people of Eastern Kentucky have lost everything. Most have nothing but the clothes on their backs. No insurance, no other coverage. Now is the time to fix this.

FEMA had opened 15 shelters across the state on Monday and delivered 56 water trucks, though some sanitation systems are still not fully operational, according to a FEMA Daily Briefing. The agency has deployed hundreds of relief officials to the state and sent more than $3.6 million in the wake of the deadly storms, according to the White House.

According to Roy Wright, who led FEMA’s risk mitigation programs until 2018, federal grants remain the best hope for local officials aiming to adapt to climate change but overseeing communities with tax bases. limited, like eastern Kentucky.

The Biden administration has invested billions of dollars in these programs, including adding new funds to a FEMA grant program called Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRICs, to try to mitigate the effects of climate change.

But the grants are vastly oversubscribed — and communities’ only chance of getting money comes if state governments file applications on their behalf.

“They need to rely more on their state to tap into the dollars that Congress and this administration have made available specifically for this purpose,” said Wright, who is now president of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home. Safety, a research group. .

On this front, those affected by the recent floods have recently gone on strike. In the last round of funding, Kentucky applied for BRIC grants for just two projects, far fewer than most states. And neither project focused on the eastern part of the state.

In the end, it didn’t matter. FEMA denied both requests.

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