Damage from Hanna not yet enough for FEMA aid

Vehicles drive through high water on Alamo Road during the aftermath of Hurricane Hanna on Sunday in Alamo. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Homeowners affected by Hurricane Hanna last month will not be able to apply for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency until enough damage is documented, and so far the county is nowhere near meeting the federally-mandated threshold, state and local officials said this week.

At least 800 uninsured homes must be flooded or destroyed in Hidalgo County before FEMA can step in to offer individual assistance, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd said Tuesday during a visit to the McAllen Convention Center.

And FEMA has a very specific way of defining flooding inside a home. Floodwaters must reach 18 inches inside a home, or about the height of an electric outlet.

“And so far we’ve registered less than 400 homes, or right at 400 homes, that actually have water at the electrical plug outlet line,” Kidd said. “So we’re a long way away from additional federal assistance for now.”

Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricardo “Rick” Saldaña said the county and its 22 municipalities are still assessing the damage.

“Basically we’re still tracking the number with our municipal partners, we’re still doing damage assessments, and we’re submitting our disaster summary outlines to the state,” he said. “So we’re just waiting to see how those numbers come out.”

Saldaña said he expected to have updated figures at the end of the week.

Currently, Texas military forces are helping rural residents and those in smaller municipalities tally the damage, he added.

Residents are encouraged to self report their damage through an online process created by TDEM, which can be accessed at https://www.hidalgocounty.us/HurricaneHanna.

Reporting damage is voluntary and is not a substitute for reporting damage to insurance agencies — nor does it guarantee disaster relief assistance, Saldaña noted.

“It is vital that residents call their home insurance provider and report claims there first,” Saldaña said.

Texas is also still trying to meet the threshold for public assistance, which is granted to local government entities and certain nonprofits.

“At the state level, for Texas, we need about $38.5 million of uninsured public loss from Hurricane Hanna,” Kidd said Tuesday. “We’ve just seen about $4 million actually reported right now, so we’re nowhere near our federal mandated threshold.”

Still, that assessment can include damage caused outside Hidalgo County, Saldaña noted.

“We still got 31 other counties that were part of the declaration that we need to still get their numbers to fulfill the disaster declaration — if we’re gonna get a federal declaration for public assistance in the state,” he said.