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Gov. urges FEMA to reconsider disaster denial

max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

Gov. Maura Healey is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reconsider its denial of a disaster declaration request following last fall’s intense flooding.

The request would have sought relief for damage caused by storms that swept through Worcester, Hampden and Bristol counties last September. North Attleborough was hit by devastating floods, with more than 200 homes damaged. Leominster saw perhaps the worst of it, with dams bursting and entire neighborhoods flooded.

In February, a letter sent to the Healey administration by FEMA stated that the damage in Leominster and North Attleborough was “not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of state, affected local governments and voluntary agencies.”

“These storms were devastating for our communities,” Healey wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden and FEMA Regional Administrator Lori Ehrlich earlier this week. “I saw the impacts firsthand – homes and businesses were destroyed, roadways and bridges were inaccessible, and some residents had to be evacuated. Six months later, they are still rebuilding.”

Healey added that the state has done what it can to support this recovery, but the needs “far outpace our available resources.”

More than 10 inches of rain fell on the North Attleborough area the weekend of Sept. 11, closing roads, turning parking lots into miniature lakes, and causing more than 2,000 power outages. Some were rendered homeless by the flooding. The town was informed in February that the request for disaster relief had been denied.

“We believe that FEMA must amend its decision in support of our residents who were impacted by September’s flood,” Town Manager Michael Borg said in February. “In the meantime, we will continue to work diligently with our local and state partners to assist with flood relief where we can.”

In response to the severe weather impacts, Healey directed the execution of the State Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, activation of the state’s Regional Emergency Operations Centers, and declared a State of Emergency on Sept. 12, 2023. The administration launched a website to centralize resources for residents, businesses and communities.

Healey has proposed creating a new Disaster Relief and Resiliency Fund so the state is able to respond quickly to natural disasters. This fund would be capitalized with 10% of annual excess capital gains, in addition to public and private sources, federal grants, settlements, repayments, or reimbursements available for the purpose of delivering aid.

“Our communities must know that both their state and federal governments understand the severe challenges and stress they are facing, and that we are here to help,” Healey wrote in her letter. “Their recovery is particularly daunting given the knowledge that the next severe storm could be around the corner, as we continue to see the escalating impacts of climate change. I urge you to please reconsider our request and help us deliver the relief that Massachusetts cities and towns desperately need.”

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