Federal Disaster Declaration Arrives Just Ahead of Next Big Storm

February 4, 2008

News that nine flood-stricken northern Indiana counties qualify for federal disaster aid was tempered Thursday by the forecast of a winter storm that threatened to complicate Gordon Cochran’s life anew.

“This whole weather thing has us about killed,” the White County emergency management director said with a nervous chuckle Thursday as he stared at a forecast of up to 15 inches of snow that could begin melting by Monday.

Gov. Mitch Daniels’ office announced Thursday that he had received a letter from President Bush declaring a major disaster and making federal funding available in Carroll, Cass, Elkhart, Fulton, Jasper, Marshall, Pulaski, Tippecanoe and White counties.

Flooding that began Jan. 7 along the Tippecanoe River and other streams killed three people, including two children, and caused more than $33 million damage in the nine counties. More than 800 homes were damaged, half either destroyed or heavily marred, Daniels said in his Jan. 23 aid request to Bush.

Cochran, who works out of an office in Monticello, about 75 miles northwest of Indianapolis, said five different areas of White County alone still have residents displaced by the flooding. Many are bunking with friends or family. The Red Cross closed its last emergency shelter about a week ago.

The availability of federal aid will speed the cleanup, Cochran said. However, some areas of White County, including the community of Buffalo along the Tippecanoe River, still have flooded areas, he said.

The prospect of another large snow melt early next week, when the forecast calls for temperatures in the 40s and a chance of rain, left Cochran troubled Thursday. Melting snow and heavy rains preceded the January flooding.

“We could be back in the same boat next week,” Cochran said.

Pam Bright, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, agreed.

“If the weathers warms up next week, we could have some additional flooding,” she said.

In Jasper County, where one person died and high water surrounded the town of Remington at one point, Emergency Management Director Karen Wilson said trash haulers have removed most of the debris. Shelters have closed, but many families couldn’t return home: They’re renting new quarters or are staying with others.

The federal disaster declaration will help them move on with their lives, she said.

“I am grateful that it has happened, because those people need help beyond what we can do locally,” Wilson said.

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