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FEMA approves over $5 million in reimbursements for tornado outbreak, more on the way

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Jeff Dean
/
NPR
Damage is visible from a tornado in Dawson Springs, Kentucky.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is continuing its efforts to help Kentucky recover from the historic and deadly western Kentucky tornado outbreak over a year after the disaster.

More than $5 million in federal funding was approved by the agency on Tuesday to reimburse Kentucky Emergency Management and Hopkins County for costs associated with the December 2021 disaster.

FEMA joint center information manager Jim Homstad said the funding comes from FEMA’s Public Assistance Program, which serves long-term infrastructure needs for areas impacted by disasters. He also said these reimbursements are just the beginning of what communities hit by the tornado can expect.

“There's more to come. Trust me,” Homstad said. “We're just getting started but the recovery is marching forward.”

Kentucky Emergency Management got a little more than $2.3 million for “emergency protective measures,” which included procuring shower & laundry trailers, multiple portable storage containers, light towers, generators, fuel delivery, shelters, security and waste containers, and “cut and toss” limb clearing measures in areas damaged by the storms.

The second parcel of funding went to Hopkins County, which received more than $2.9 million to reimburse the community for debris removal costs.

Judge-Executive Jack Whitfield Jr. said this first “big chunk” of a reimbursement is a good start and will help the county stabilize its finances. Whitfield said Hopkins County has spent more than $9 million on debris removal – a project FEMA is funding at a 90% cost share, meaning it will pay most of the eligible costs. The county official is still confident the agency will come through with the funding.

“I think it's just going to take longer than I expected it to, longer than I think it should have, for that to happen,” Whitfield said. “Fortunately, the state has helped us financially to get through this period, but getting that reimbursement back from FEMA will definitely help.”

The Hopkins County community of Dawson Springs was one of the cities hit hardest by the tornado outbreak, with initial estimates indicating around 75% of its housing had been destroyed by the storm. Whitfield said now, more than a year later, things are still moving slowly.

“Unfortunately, the recovery is going slower than we want,” he said. “We'd love to see everybody back in a brand new home within weeks or months, but it's obviously going to take a little bit longer than that, especially when you start figuring in the rental homes that were in some of the areas to get hit. So the recovery is going well, but it could always be better.”

Despite the pace of recovery, Whitfield is proud of how his community has pulled together in the wake of the disaster.

“We know there's still an emotional and mental toll that that takes on the folks that live through that horrendous tornado, but for the most part people are doing fairly well,” the judge-executive said. “The community came together and still does on so many different levels. That level of support for each other has been really good to see and not only just from the community members, but from people coming in from all over the place to help.”

Homstad expects more reimbursements to go to impacted communities across the area in the coming months.

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