Alachua County expects federal disaster declaration

Alachua County expects the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make a disaster declaration next week, allowing businesses and homeowners to apply for federal assistance in the wake of Tropical Storm Elsa.

On Friday Jen Grice, acting director of Emergency Management for Alachua County, said in a phone interview that more than 100 homeowners and businesses have reported damages. She said the trigger for a disaster declaration is “at least 25 homes that have at least 40 percent uninsured damage.”

Flooding, trees on homes and damages to home structures accounted for most of the reports through the county portal, Grice said.

Alachua County Public Works director Ramon Gavarrete said crews removed more than 350 trees from rights of way and structures during and after the storm.

Gavarrete said before, during and after the storm came through his crews set up pumping stations in areas known for flooding. Elsa left some of the highest floods in the area since 2004, he added.

“The weather people will say up to 8 or 9 inches [of rain] fell,” Gavarrete said. “But we had rains every day two weeks prior and there was one direction the water was going and it was over land.”

The county announced on Friday that the last of the closed roads had reopened, including NW 39th Avenue, nine days after Elsa passed west of Alachua County.

According to Gavarrete, areas that took 10 days to recede in the last major event took half that time during Elsa, so his department has made progress by setting up mobile and permanent pumping stations in known low areas throughout Alachua County.

“Overall the flooding situations were remedied much faster this time than with Hurricane Irma,” he said.

Gavarrete said he will be bringing back staff recommendations for the purchase of more pumps and possibly the installation of more permanent pumping stations.

As for residents with home damage from the storm, the reporting portal remains open through the county website.

If the SBA makes the declaration of disaster as expected, the county will notify residents and businesses on how to apply for low interest loans to address the repairs insurance does not cover. 

Alachua Board of County Commision (BOCC) Chair Ken Cornell said he looks forward to Gavarrete’s report at the September meeting.

“We’ll hear what those potential solutions will be,” he said, adding that it will be a “robust discussion.”

According to the SBA website, disaster loans are issued for losses “not covered by insurance or funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for both personal and business,” and for “business operating expenses that could have been met had the disaster not occurred.”

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