FEMA denies federal funding to South Mississippi for April flooding

 Flood waters rush past Barnes and Nobles Booksellers in Gulfport on April 28.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD/FILE Flood waters rush past Barnes and Nobles Booksellers in Gulfport on April 28.

FEMA has denied federal funding for late-April flood damage in South Mississippi, saying the total damage amount doesn't meet the threshold for a disaster designation.

Harrison County Emergency Management Agency Director Rupert Lacy said he is disappointed with FEMA's decision, and his office plans to file an appeal.

"It's unfortunate," he said. "We have attorneys drafting an appeal right now,"

The appeal will be sent to Gov. Phil Bryant, who will likely sign it, Lacy said.

Early in the morning April 28, an intense storm system dumped close to 12 inches of rain on some sections of Gulfport, Biloxi and D'Iberville in less than five hours. The rain quickly swelled river levels and drained into low-lying areas.

There were 123 apartments either destroyed or considered to have suffered major destruction in the flooding. About 125 businesses suffered similar damage.

Bryant, Biloxi Mayor Andrew Gilich, Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes and the Harrison County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency in the days after the flooding. Despite meeting the threshold for the number of individual structures damaged, the total amount of infrastructure damage fell short of the $4.6 million necessary for a disaster declaration from FEMA. Lacy said the damage estimate was less than $3 million. He said FEMA considered the 107 structures damaged or destroyed in the flooding that lie outside the flood zone.

He said he is lobbying the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to send in the Small Business Administration to help business and home owners with low-interest loans.

Meanwhile, Gulfport City Councilwoman Cara Pucheu is eyeing long-term solutions to severe flooding problem. Pucheu's ward includes the Orange Grove community in northwest Harrison County, where several businesses and residences were flooded. She said she has gotten verbal confirmation the Natural Resource Conservation Service intends to provide a grant to help with future flooding prevention. NRCS officials will soon meet with the state Department of Environmental Quality, the Gulfport public works director and county engineer to determine what steps to take and how much funding will be needed to stem future flooding issues, she said.

"The main flooding issues occurred in my area," she said. "Once engineers take a look and MDEQ gets involved, we'll know what their plan will be. We'll have a better idea of how much funding will be needed to address it."

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