President Barack Obama signed a declaration Thursday for Sevier County, making federal aid available to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by wildfires.
The action makes federal funding available to affected residents in Sevier County, which could include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and businesses recover, according to a news release from the White House Press Office Thursday night.
Federal funding is also now available to state and eligible local governments and some nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in Sevier County during the period of Nov. 28 to Dec. 9.
“This deadly wildfire required a coordinated response from many individuals and organizations,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in a statement Thursday. “The outpouring of care, relief, and support from around the world for Sevier County and its people has been extraordinary. This assistance from the federal government will help relieve some of the financial burden of this disaster on Tennesseans and Sevier County.”
Haslam sent a request to the president on Dec. 9 for a major disaster declaration for five Tennessee counties, including Coffee, McMinn, Polk, Sequatchie and Sevier.
The release from the White House Thursday only mentioned Sevier County.
In the release, FEMA said that damage surveys are continuing, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after assessments are complete.
In a statement Thursday, Halsam
FEMA said that residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin applying for assistance tomorrow by registering online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week until further notice.
Earlier on Thursday, 10 Tennessee lawmakers sent a letter urging Obama to sign Haslam's request for disaster relief.
The lawmakers represent the areas affected by the wildfires or tornadoes.
Those signing the letter include Senators Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), Steve Southerland (R-Morristown), Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), and Representatives Dale Carr (R-Sevierville), Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), John Forgety (R-Athens), Dan Howell (R-Georgetown), Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) and Ron Travis (R-Dayton).
The letter said, "“On behalf of our constituents in Sevier, Coffee, McMinn, Polk and Sequatchie counties in Tennessee, we join with the members of Tennessee’s delegation in the United State Congress in full support of Governor Bill Haslam’s request to declare a major disaster pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief Act as a result of the severe wildfires and tornadoes that impacted our state beginning November 28, 2016.”
Parts of Sevier County have been devastated by fires that tore through the community the night of Nov. 28, resulting in 14 deaths, about 191 injuries and illnesses and 2,460 damaged or destroyed structures.
Just a day later, overnight on Nov. 29, five tornadoes touched down in Tennessee. There were four weather-related fatalities.
FEMA has already authorized federal funds to reimburse costs to the state to battle the wildfires under its Fire Management Assistance Grant program.