President Biden Declares California Storm Emergency Following Request From Governor

President Joe Biden approved a California Emergency Declaration on Friday, giving federal assistance to both state and local response and relief efforts following large storms that caused flooding, mudslides, blizzards, and landslides in Counties across the state.

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Since the beginning of March, Governor Newsom has already declared two storm-related states of emergency in California. The first was due to the San Bernardino County storm incident last week that caused over 100 inches of snow to fall in some areas of the County and has, as of  Friday, killed 13 people. Another storm system reaching California earlier this week primarily in Northern California then prompted a second state of emergency declaration from the Governor, adding another 21 Counties being put under a state of emergency in addition to the 13 declared the previous week in Southern California.

“The state is working around the clock with local partners to deploy life-saving equipment and first responders to communities across California,” said Governor Newsom on Wednesday. “With more dangerous storms on the horizon, we’ll continue to mobilize every available resource to protect Californians.”

However, with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, CAL FIRE, the California National Guard, and local services being stretched, from digging out roads in the San Bernardino Mountains to setting up flood zones in Northern California, many called for additional federal help. On Thursday, Governor Newsom requested a Presidential Emergency Declaration to authorize federal assistance to support state and local response.

“California is deploying every tool we have to protect communities from the relentless and deadly storms battering our state,” Newsom announced Thursday. “In these dangerous and challenging conditions, it is crucial that Californians remain vigilant and follow all guidance from local emergency responders.”

In less than 24 hours, President Biden agreed to send federal assistance to California. In a press release on Friday, the White House noted that  “The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the counties of Amador, Butte, El Dorado, Fresno, Humboldt, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Lake, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Mono, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Francisco, San Mateo, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sierra, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tulare, Tuolumne, and Yuba.

“Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.  Emergency protective measures (Category B), limited to direct Federal assistance, under the Public Assistance program will be provided at 75 percent Federal funding.”

While more assistance is now coming, many in the affected areas, especially in San Bernardino County, have said that they believed that state and federal help came too late.

First responders respond to emergency assistance delays

“We’ve been plowing like crazy and assisting in any way that we can,” explained Matt Hanna, a first responder in San Bernardino County who has been assisting local residents for over a week, to the Globe on Friday. “But relief for us has been slow. A big part of emergency orders is that things we need are rushed to us and that government red tape is cut because lives are at risk. But it has not been happening fast enough.

“Some of the guys here have had to go out in snowshoes for help. Out in Crestline, at a food store that became sort of a focal point for assistance, the roof collapsed. There are roads out there that have taken days to get to. Part of this was that we just weren’t fully prepared for a storm of this magnitude, but again, localities can only do so much during an emergency that goes beyond our limits. We got some immediate help. I mean, the CHP guys here were helping out as fast as anyone. But we needed a lot more from the state, but we just didn’t get it in time. And now over a dozen people are dead because of it.”

State officials have countered that storms have battered the entire state with many happening at once, causing equipment and resources to not move as quickly as hoped.

“The unique and challenging part of this storm was that it hit so many parts of our state simultaneously, so you’re unable to move equipment from other parts of the state that are trying to keep their lifeline roads open,” explained Cal OES spokesman Brian Ferguson in a statement. “The storms that hit San Bernardino’s highest elevations are unprecedented and particularly challenging to respond to. It really is a street fight — street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

However, despite the explanation, many first responders aren’t buying it.

“We have people here who have felt like they have been abandoned in their time of need,” added a first responder who wished to only be known as “Margo” to the Globe. “Localities, like cities, they haven’t been blaming too much because a lot of these places are generally smaller towns. Also, a lot of local residents have helped pick up the slack on plowing and have voluntarily helped clear roads here. Like the other day, this high up road was cleared, letting a family drive out for the first time in a week. The guy plowing it cleared the street and the family gave him a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee as thanks. Some are being rescued after spending a week trapped in their car. There’s these moments of humanity everywhere out there.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

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