February 29, 2024

Disaster relief funds on the way for tornado damage victims

LANSING, Mich. (WILX) – Federal relief funds are now being offered for people affected by a disastrous storm that blew through Mid-Michigan last year.

Dangerously high winds and heavy rain passed in a night on Aug. 24, but the damage still remains. Now that President Joe Biden has approved a Michigan Disaster Declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can start delivering funds to communities in Ingham, Eaton, Ionia and Livingston counties that are still coping with storm damage.

The storm qualified as a tornado when it touched down in Williamston, blowing down the 100-year-old Dietz family farm and family home. Fifth-generation farm owner Tim Dietz said he’s already filled out an application for a relief grant. He’s hoping to see additional funds in his pocket for rebuild efforts, not just on his property, but across the county.

“Road repair, drain commission, I hope, can tap into some of that funding, because there are a lot of trees down along Dietz creek,” he said. “And we’re seeing already when we get heavy rain events that it’s backing up onto our property.”

Eaton County Emergency Manager Ryan Wilkinson said funding from FEMA is a step in the right direction. Wilkinson and his team were on the ground through the storm and the days following. He said the damage they witnessed is severe, and there are dozens of people that could benefit from the FEMA funds.

“There’s still a lot of leg work left to do, and we know that,” Wilkinson said. “But to know that at least one program unlocked for us, is just one step forward in our recovery process.”

While FEMA dollars will cover some expenses for individuals and businesses, Wilkinson said money for county property, like drains, bridges and other infrastructure, is not yet guaranteed.

“Back when we submitted our initial numbers, we were around $3.6 million [in damage] countywide,” he said. “So still waiting to see if we’re going to be granted that declaration.”

Wilkinson is expecting the county’s repair bill to change slightly, based on repair efforts that have taken place over the last several months, but there’s still much to be done. In the city of Potterville, repairs to public facilities at parks, tree damage and removal of storm debris are all on the list.

“FEMA disaster relief for municipalities is a benefit but has been known to have conditions or exclusions,” said City Manager Aaron Sheridan. “It will take time.”

On Friday, Ingham County Emergency Management sent out an alert to community members about the availability of FEMA funds. The department said local disaster recovery centers will also be set up for those who need help applying in person, and site information will be posted as soon as the county has confirmed locations.

As for the Dietz farm, the start of a new barn now sits on the family property, which was previously cleared down to the mud about a week after the storm. A few hundred feet away sits the Dietzs temporary trailer where they currently live, until their home can be rebuilt. Although, Tim Dietz said, as of right now, that trailer is only paid up until September.

“And maybe that’s where this FEMA money would come in as well, potentially extending the time we can stay,” he said.

The application for FEMA funding is currently open through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Disaster Assistance website, but Wilkinson said people eligible for funds are encouraged to keep in touch with their local emergency management department for updates as well.

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