One Week Later: County hoping for federal aid to help citizens mitigate tornado damage

County waiting for Federal disaster declaration and funding to help with debris left behind by the tornado.

One week after an EF-1 tornado ripped its way across the width of Stephens County, toppling trees onto cars, houses and roads, ripping porches and roofs off homes and leaving thousands of people in the dark, Stephens County is still in clean-up mode.

“We’re still getting trees out of the road and off the right-of-ways,” Stephens County Board of Commissioners chair Dennis Bell told ConnectLocal.

Citizens, too , are working assess and address the damage left behind by the 110-mph winds. For some, that means repairing structural damage to homes and outbuildings, while others worked through the weekend to remove debris and branches – and often entire trees – from driveways and yards.

For many of those residents, the question now is, what to do with piles of broken branches, twisted limbs and entire trees that the tornado left behind.

“What I’m hoping for is that we will get a Federal disaster declaration so that we can possibly get funding to hire someone or find some other way to help the people get all this stuff out,” Bell said, explaining that the county is prevented from using county equipment on private property.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, on instituted a stateside disaster declaration following the storm system that spawned 15 tornados as well as damaging straightline winds, hail, lightening and flooding throughout the state. Left behind in the wake of the storms were eight fatalities, 33 injured, 87 homes destroyed and another 133 homes with major damage.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency has been in Stephens County over the past week, assessing damage, taking photos and completing reports as officials toured the county with Bell, Stephens County Emergency Management Agency Director Danielle Rhodes, and State Representative Chris Erwin.

"Chris calls me every other day, and he’s been out here a couple three times,” Bell said. “He’s really been working for us.”

Although the statewide disaster declaration is helpful, funding for any county-level assistance with cleanup – including removal of trees and debris from residential property- will take a federal declaration and federal funding, Bell said, adding that he is hopeful that will take place early this week.

“If they (property owners) can just hang tight, hopefully we will know something (this) week,” he said. “

For those who can’t delay – those with structural damage to their homes, for example – Bell advised taking photos to record the damage. He also warned about scam artists and fraudulent workers.

“We call them storm chasers, it especially happens with roof repairs after a storm, they will come around and say they will fix your roof for $8,000 and give you $2,000 back – that is fraud,” he said.

“Always ask to see a certificate of insurance for anyone that is going to do work, and if they don't have that certificate, they need to report that,” Bell said, adding that there are several reputable, reliable local companies that can complete roofing and other structural repair work.

To report "storm chasers," or fraudulent behavior from companies or individuals conducting tornado clean-up services, call The Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner's Consumer Services office at 404-656-2070.


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