Hurricane Debris Removal a Priority Collaborative Effort Following Rita

October 11, 2005

Federal, state and local efforts are still underway to remove what Hurricane Rita left behind after it hammered Southeast Texas – an estimated five million cubic yards of fallen trees, limbs and trash from damaged buildings, said officials of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Texas Governor’s Division of Emergency Management (GDEM).

“Our early targeting of debris removal is to make highways and roads safe for travel and to remove debris from public property if it constitutes a health or safety hazard,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Tom Davies of FEMA.

FEMA debris specialists who assess debris removal needs and oversee and monitor removal operations have been deployed to stricken Texas counties. The actual removal, storage and disposal of debris are performed by local governments or in some cases by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE). FEMA is providing direct federal assistance through a mission assignment to USACE for debris removal on public property as a quick response measure in heavily damaged areas.

Reimbursement for debris removal costs is covered under FEMA’s Public Assistance program. The GDEM administers the program. FEMA will reimburse local governments 100 percent of the costs of debris removal, pickup and disposal occurring during the first 34 days after the hurricane. For debris removal after that period, FEMA pays 75 percent of the costs. The remaining 25 percent comes from local funds.

“Local governments and federal and state assets have responded to the massive task of debris removal that must be undertaken quickly to allow access and protect the safety of residents,” said State Coordinating Officer Frank Cantu. “Individual property owners also have a role in the cleanup and in providing for their own safety.”

Debris removal from private property is not eligible for FEMA assistance and is generally the responsibility of the property owner, just as when it is not a disaster. However, for a limited time, individual property owners can move debris from their property to public rights-of-way for pick up and disposal by local government and/or the USACE. Property owners should check with their local officials about debris pickup and removal ordinances.

Homeowners, renters and non-farm business owners may qualify for low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to cover uninsured or under-insured losses associated with the disaster, such as debris removal services. To apply for federal disaster assistance, that may include an SBA low-interest disaster loan, you must register with FEMA at or call 800-621-3362 or TTY 800-462-7585 for the speech or hearing impaired.

For those unable to handle debris cleanup on their own property, in later stages of the recovery effort voluntary agencies often step in to assist hurricane victims, such as the elderly. Citizens with emergency needs for debris removal should contact their local emergency management office.

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