CHARLESTON – Less than a month ago, our state was hit by severe, widespread, historic flooding.
Twenty-three people lost their lives. Homes and businesses were destroyed. Communities were devastated. But along with this tragedy came the fastest, most coordinated emergency response from local, state and federal governments that I have seen in my time as governor – and an overwhelming outpouring of selflessness from West Virginians and people across the country.
Within just two days, we were able to secure individual assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 12 counties. So far, more than 7,000 residents have filed for assistance and FEMA has approved more than $30 million for individuals and households. Through FEMA, we also secured public assistance, which will help rebuild communities through grants to state and local governments and certain non-profit entities.
We have had state government representatives from my office, the Department of Health and Human Resources, WorkForce West Virginia, the Division of Motor Vehicles and other agencies stationed at disaster recovery centers – which have seen nearly 4,000 visits – across affected counties, helping address immediate individual needs. And, I have approved agency requests to waive fees for the replacement of records, including drivers' licenses and birth certificates, that were lost.
The challenges that remain are vast, especially as we work to help people get back in homes and keep communities intact. But because of our quick progress on all of these fronts, I know we are up to the test.
Together with FEMA, the West Virginia National Guard, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and volunteer organizations including Volunteer West Virginia and our state's Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, we moving from the immediate response needs we have faced to long-term recovery.
Toward that end, I have appointed Major General James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard as our state's Chief Recovery Officer. In this capacity, he will spearhead sustained recovery efforts by working with FEMA to identify gaps and ensure all needs are met. In addition, I appointed our state Department of Commerce Secretary, Keith Burdette, as our State Disaster Recovery Officer, allowing him to help businesses and workers find additional federal help.
Volunteer organizations and efforts are critical to each of these sustained efforts. From the Red Cross to selfless individuals, West Virginia has once again shown that in the face of tragedy, we take care of one another. This past week, I met with John Roberts of Mountain Mission, which is leading a volunteer effort by several groups to replace drywall, subfloors, electrical systems and insulation for hundreds of homes in Elkview and Clendenin – just one of the many testaments of incredible giving in this time of need.
Recovering from this tragedy will require all of us – from the federal, state, local and non-profit levels. None of us can do it alone. But coming together is what West Virginians do best. And because of that, I am confident we will not just recover – but become stronger than ever before.
If you need flood-related assistance or would like to help those affected, visit www.wvflood.com, West Virginia's primary source of information on recovery and volunteer efforts.
Tomblin is governor of West Virginia.