Kan. Snowstorm Damages Will Exceed $360 Million, Officials Say

Damage from the crippling late-December snowstorm that blanketed western Kansas with snow and ice, downing power lines and killing thousands of head of cattle, will exceed $360 million.

The Kansas Adjutant General’s Department released its damage estimate on Thursday, after a number of assessments in the 44 western Kansas counties that were declared a disaster area by President Bush.

Not included in the estimate is damage to individual homes and businesses, which would not be eligible for the federal aid.

Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department, which oversees the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, said rural electric cooperatives in the affected counties will be reimbursed $350 million by the federal government. At least $10 million will be given to cities, counties and nonprofit organizations.

“The focus right now is getting the reimbursements to those eligible applicants in the state,” Watson said.

The storm began Dec. 28 and for three days trudged across Kansas, knocking out power to about 66,000 customers and contributing to the death of a rural Wallace County man. Several dozen residents and about 1,400 commercial entities were still without electricity late last week.

“The bad news is the huge cost of (the damage) that occurred in the end-of-the-year winter storm,” said U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays. “The good news is that they are so large there is more help from the federal government.

Damage estimates could still grow in the coming weeks, as U.S. Department of Agriculture officials get a bearing on the effect the storm had on the state cattle industry.

Information supplied by the governor’s office puts damage at more than $200 million, based only on weight loss of surviving animals.

“I don’t have any hard numbers at all,” said Phil Ledbetter, a senior investigator with the Department of Agriculture Animal Health Inspection Service. “From what I’ve heard, the death loss is 1 to 2 percent.”

That estimate puts the death toll at up to 87,500 of the 3.5 million head in western Kansas. The state livestock association estimates up to 7,000 cattle in commercial feedlots alone perished.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has requested a federal disaster declaration for agriculture that would make available low-interest loans to cattle producers. But a spokeswoman for the governor said she is uncertain whether it will be approved