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What will it take for Texas to get federal money to recover from Imelda?

The Texas Division of Emergency Management said FEMA has certain thresholds the state would need to meet in order to get assistance.

HOUSTON — Federal officials from FEMA are still surveying the damage across southeast Texas left by the rain and flooding from Imelda.

Even though Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency for 13 Texas counties, that does not qualify people for financial assistance from FEMA. 

According to Seth Christensen with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, FEMA has certain thresholds it requires people and municipalities to meet before qualifying for federal funds.

"We are very early on in the recovery phase," said Christensen. "Sunday we were still rescuing people. We're slowly moving into recovery."

TDEM staff are on the ground with FEMA assessors now in Jefferson and Orange Counties looking at damage. Once TDEM collects that evidence, it will send a recommendation to Governor Abbott to ask the President to issue a federal disaster declaration.

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There are two types of FEMA assistance: individual assistance and public assistance.

Individual assistance is for families whose property has been severely damaged. In order to qualify, Texas must show at least 800 homes that are either uninsured or underinsured suffered major damage.

Public assistance is for municipalities and town, city, or county property that was damaged. In order to qualify, Texas must demonstrate more than $37 million in damage in the affected areas. Debris clean-up costs can count towards that total, Christensen said.

”Once that happens I’ve been promised we will get a speedy turnaround on our answer and I think that’s all we can ask for," said Chief Nim Kidd with TDEM.

Kidd is calling local officials to consider buyouts in areas where Texas has seen repetitive flood losses. He said that will help lessen the risks of future flooding by not rebuilding homes in areas that habitually flood.

”It’s devastating to the families that live there and it’s costly to those of us that are having to keep going out and doing rescues in those areas and open up shelters to serve those citizens," said Kidd.

Christensen said in Texas, we have a disaster that meets the federal declaration requirements once every eight months, on average. There have been 3 Presidentially Declared Disaster in Texas since Hurricane Harvey. (Imelda would be the fourth, if declared).

."Not all of the events get the same coverage as Harvey or Imelda," said Christensen.

Christensen said a general guideline that can identify damage as "major" is if the water inside a home is higher than the electric outlets on the wall, usually about 18 inches from the ground.

Kidd said there are about 7,000 national flood insurance claims made up to this point. Homes covered by a National Flood Insurance Policy (NFIP) disqualifies the property from counting toward our federally required threshold. They may be eligible for assistance once a federal disaster declaration is granted.

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In the meantime, Christensen said people should be looking to volunteer organizations for help, such as Texas 211 or crisiscleanup.org.

The Texas Department of Insurance is also offering tips for people in the meantime.

For home damage

  • If you have flood insurance, call your agent or company as soon as possible. Federal flood policies require you to file a claim and document all your losses within 60 days.
  • Most home and renters policies don’t cover flood damage, but a few do. Check your policy or call your agent if you aren’t sure about your coverage. Even if you don’t have flood coverage, you may need a denial from your insurance company if you apply for federal disaster assistance.
  • Most home policies cover damage from wind or falling tree limbs. They’ll also cover damage to fences.
  • As soon as it’s safe, take photos or video of the damage. Don’t throw away damaged items until you talk to your adjuster.

For auto damage

  • Your personal auto policy covers flood damage if you have comprehensive coverage. If your car was flooded or damaged, call your insurance company or agent as soon as possible.
  • Take photos or video of the damage and, if possible, of your car in the water.
  • It’s best to talk to a mechanic before trying to dry out a car that got water inside. 

If you have insurance questions or need help contacting your company call TDI’s Help Line at 1-800-252-3439.


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