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FEMA Declaration for Sally Could Be Imminent

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With cleanup and restoration work ongoing in the wake of Hurricane Sally, one unanswered questions is when northwest Florida will get a federal disaster declaration?

“[There’s] a lot of communication from the state Department of Emergency Management and also from our FEMA partners,” said Escambia County Administrator Janice Gilley. “They’re working to complete all of their assessment, and the valuations are still being calculated.”

A federal disaster declaration makes available federal funding for areas such as temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans. Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia County, Alabama received theirs last week from the White House.

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson has been keeping in touch with the city’s lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

“What I’m being told is that there are other counties that they are not finalized in,” Robinson said. “Not Escambia County; everything in the city of Pensacola and Escambia County is good – at least that was the word. At no time have we ever been told that we felt it wasn’t going to happen or something else.”

Speaking on Facebook, the mayor said FEMA officials got a first-hand look at the damage left by Sally, during a recent tour of the area hosted by the mayor.

“FEMA had their administrator; [we] had a chance to take him around, also the regional director for the Southeast,” said the mayor. “We took them around and showed them things.”

That included repairs from past storm, says Robinson, which was aimed at highlighting some of the success stories in which FEMA played a role.

“Case in point – I think we had 18 system failures in the 2014 floods; and we had zero in Hurricane Sally,” said the mayor. “None of our infrastructure was compromised, we did have a chance to show FEMA some of those things.”

Drawing some fire has been the county’s request to send in photos and video of residential damage. Some believe that’s tied to the FEMA application, and they point to the fact that storm victims in south Alabama received no such request before their approval. Administrator Janice Gilley says that’s not necessarily so, based on a conversation she had with state Emergency Director Jared Moskowitz.

“Any information that you could provide them, in terms of the more information, photos and things like that, could be helpful; but I’m not aware that that would be the reason to not get it,” said Gilley. “I think that based on my conversation with Dir. Moskowitz, I would say that he was pretty confident by the end of the week we would hear something.”

Meanwhile, it appears that the next phase post-Sally will be lessons learned.

“One of the things that we talk about is the fact that the storm moved almost 100 miles within a day or two,” Gilley said. “From that perspective I wish we’d had a better meteorological prediction. Starting on Saturday, we were told it was going to be a very heavy water event in terms of flooding. So we did do those preparations.”

If the county had not been “leaning forward” with the elemental pieces of prep, Emergency Director Eric Gilmore, who says their meetings began on Friday, says it could have been much worse.

“When we went under the hurricane warning, we pulled the trigger [and] immediately stood the shelter up, did voluntary evacuation for Zone-A,” Gilmore said. “Preached for two days about low-lying areas, [and] flooding event. But hindsight’s 20/20; it was a higher storm surge than we anticipated with the values. And that’s something we’re going to discuss with Mobile Weather. Those are the thing we’ll clean up after this.”

There’s a laundry list of after-storm actions, said Gilmore.

“Nothing runs perfect; I wish it did – I really do,” said Gilmore. “But thank goodness we had resources ready to go at the last minute, pull the triggers, and resources in the county. Otherwise, we might have a different situation right now.”

Calls to U.S Rep. Matt Gaetz’ office seeking an interview were not returned.