Meskwaki granted FEMA assistance

Lawrence SpottedBird

Gov. Reynolds received word on September 10 that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has made assistance available to public entities and nonprofits in seven additional counties as well as the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa that were impacted by the Aug. 10 derecho.

Greene, Grundy, Guthrie, Hardin, Iowa, Jackson, and Washington counties have been added to a Presidential Disaster Declaration issued by President Trump on Aug. 17, 2020, which made public entities and select nonprofits in 16 counties eligible to apply for the federal Public Assistance Program.

The Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa received a separate Presidential Disaster Declaration from President Trump yesterday which made the tribe eligible to apply for the federal Public Assistance Program.

Public Assistance funding may be used for emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities.

Individual assistance from FEMA for tribal members is being coordinated with the state disaster declaration which approved the program for residents in Tama County as well as Benton, Boone, Cedar, Jasper, Linn, Marshall, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, and Story counties.

A statement released by the Tribe on September 11 read:

“On August 10, 2020, without warning, a unique storm known by meteorologists as a ‘derecho’ descended upon Meskwaki Nation carrying winds in excess of 109 mph, causing major damage to tribal owned homes, businesses and critical infrastructure. Many public facilities such as the school, tribal center, travel-plaza, public works/police station, medical clinic and other tribal operations buildings were also damaged. In response, the Meskwaki Nation activated its tribal emergency operations planning, exhausting local capabilities and resources. Today, we thank President Donald J. Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for approving the tribe’s request for assistance that will help the tribal community with our recovery from this devastating natural disaster.”

A claim for around $3.5 million was submitted to FEMA roughly one week following the disaster that sought to cover costs associated with debris clean up, damage repair, and the housing and feeding of community members displaced by the storm.

Much of the central and eastern Iowa communities impacted by the storm were notified within one week of the storm that they would be approved to participate in the FEMA Public Assistance Program.

Unfortunately for the Meskwaki Nation, word from the federal government about their FEMA claim didn’t come until one month after the storm.

“There was, of course, a build up of anxiety as time went along given that the one month anniversary of the storm was a day before the declaration was approved,” Meskwaki Nation Executive Director Lawrence SpottedBird said. “We submitted our application on the 14th, a few days before the state submitted their application and we saw the state get their’s approved the very next day. It was a relief to get that final approval. Because as time went on we were concerned the hurricane issues down in Louisiana and Texas would bump us down to low priority or even down to no priority. But it got approval and we’re very relieved. Now the work really needs to begin with FEMA.”

Much of the debris clean up on the Settlement has been completed already but the next challenge will be repairing the homes damaged in the storm.

Roughly 200 out of the 350 homes on the Settlement were damaged on August 10, temporarily displacing 600 people.

Since that time all but one family have been able to return to their homes where temporary repairs have been made to make the structures livable until permanent restoration work can begin. The challenge presented with undergoing unexpected construction work in September is potential extended periods of wet weather and the threat of an early onset to winter. Some Settlement homes closer to the Iowa River were still recovering from the impacts of spring flooding when the derecho hit.

“We’ll be working on completing the required documentation to FEMA with our designated liaison in the coming weeks,” SpottedBird said. “We’ve already got insurance adjusters that went through pretty much every home as well as several of our tribal facilities to assess damage. Now it’s a matter of scheduling contractors to actually do the work as soon as possible and coordinating those costs with FEMA. We’ll be carrying on with our major clean up work to get all of the trees and limbs and debris cleaned up and removed from the properties.”

As repair work begins the Tribe has temporary storage units being made available for families that will need to empty their house to make room for major construction work to take place.

“I believe by and large, the community was very pleased with us doing whatever we can, you know, to help them through this process,” SpottedBird said. “We were thankfully able to use the casino for housing. We filled up all the rooms in the casino immediately because people didn’t have power and they couldn’t stay at their homes. Some were barely able to get out of their homes because we had to jump in there and remove trees and clear driveways and roads.”

Rep. Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) was part of the congressional delegation with Senators Grassley and Ernst that signed a letter to President Trump in late August requesting approval of the Tribe’s FEMA request. Finkenauer visited the Settlement on August 20 and met with tribal leaders and emergency management staff.

In a statement released on Sept. 11 Finkenauer said, “”I want to thank FEMA for recognizing the needs of our neighbors at the Meskwaki Settlement. After visiting the Meskwaki Nation last month and meeting with tribal leaders, it was clear to me that the August 10 derecho caused significant damage to personal and tribal property, and that federal assistance was necessary.”