Haley asks for federal disaster declaration for ice storm

jholleman@thestate.comMarch 4, 2014 

— Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday officially asked for a federal disaster declaration for the Feb. 10-14 winter storm, citing damages of $54 million to government agencies and utilities focused in 21 counties.

The $54 million figure doesn’t include damage to privately insured property or to the timber industry.

The S.C. Forestry Commission plans to release details on its damage survey Wednesday, but agency spokesman Scott Hawkins said Tuesday that the direct immediate damages to timber from the storm will add up to around $360 million.

By comparison, a major ice storm that impacted a thinner belt of South Carolina in 2004 did an estimated $98.5 million damage to the state’s timber industry. A state timber emergency was declared after that storm.

Major damages also were inflicted on private insured property such as buildings and vehicles. The day after the storm hit, the S.C. Insurance News Service offered an educated guess of $15 million in insured damages. But both the news service and the S.C. Department of Insurance have yet to come up with an updated damage estimate they feel comfortable releasing. The Department of Insurance hopes to have that estimate by the end of the week, according to spokeswoman Ann Roberson.

If approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Haley’s disaster declaration request would make federal funds available for recovery efforts. It would be the first major disaster declaration for the state since an Upstate ice storm in 2005.

Last month’s storm hit hardest in a swath from Edgefield and Hampton counties in the west to Dillon and Horry in the east. Haley’s request noted the damage totals are certain to grow. Crews will be cleaning up debris in some areas for months.

Haley’s letter detailed costs in dealing with the storm — from the 17,038 tons of salt spread on the roads to the 4,941 storm-related calls for service by the S.C. Highway Patrol. In many rural counties, efforts to protect residents during the storm and get life back to normal depleted county emergency resources.

“I do not know how we could recover or when we would ever be able to recover without assistance,” said Roger Riley, director of the Barnwell County Emergency Management Agency. “This has hit us at the worst time possible and is just devastating.”

The state and its counties and municipalities “require the assistance of the federal government to recover, to continue day-to-day government operations, and to maintain our ability to respond to future emergencies,” Haley wrote in her request.

Nearly 40 percent of the expense — $23 million — was for debris removal for the countless trees and large limbs that cracked under a coat of ice more than an inch thick in some areas.

The other major expense was $27 million in damages to electrical cooperatives and municipal electric systems whose power lines were hit by falling trees or simply collapsed under the weight of the ice on the lines.

The letter specifically asked for help in 21 counties — Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Berkeley, Calhoun, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Colleton, Dillon, Dorchester, Edgefield, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Marion, Orangeburg, Saluda, Sumter and Williamsburg. The request noted that other counties might be added later.

Many county emergency agencies already were strained by a Jan. 28 snowstorm that caused an estimated $2 million in damages.

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