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FEMA Tornado Damage Assessments Begin Across 10 Ohio counties

Celina Mayor Jeffrey Hazel, Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio First Lady address the media the morning after an EF3 tornado killed one resident and left 40 with uninhabitable homes.
Jason Reynolds

Special teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrive in Ohio Tuesday to begin assessing the damage from last week’s tornado outbreak.

The storm damaged thousands of homes and businesses across the Miami Valley and FEMA’s visit is a critical step toward securing federal disaster assistance, but officials say it could take weeks before any potential disaster aid comes to Ohio.

The FEMA investigators are expected to visit 10 Ohio counties damaged in last week’s tornadoes: Montgomery, Greene, Mercer, Auglaize, Darke, Miami, Pickaway, Hocking, Perry and Muskingum Counties.

The National Weather Service has confirmed 21 tornadoes struck Ohio from Memorial Day night through the morning of May 28.

Montgomery and Greene County officials have already released their own preliminary damage assessments, and FEMA is here to determine whether any of that damage qualifies Ohio for federal disaster relief.

“They're going to be looking at the different structures and seeing how damaged they are, and another key factor is how much of that damage is covered by insurance or not," says the State Emergency Management Agency’s Jay Carey.

Under federal rules, renters, homeowners and business owners are required to submit claims to their insurance companies before seeking any help from FEMA.

Federal assistance could also eventually come from the United States Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In deciding whether to make that assistance available in the first place, FEMA’s Troy Christensen says investigators look at a complex host of factors, including communities’ own ability to recover.

“That really is one of one of the things that we're going to be considering here over the next couple of days: how many unmet needs there are in the community and what kind of resources the community has to provide for some of those," he says. 

Montgomery County assessment teams have so far counted at least 173 businesses, and at least 2,550 residential properties that suffered storm damage.

Greene County reports roughly 600 homes and apartments, and at least 40 commercial buildings suffered damage from the tornado, Brandon Huddleson, county administrator, told WYSO.

The federal damage assessment process is expected to be painstaking and slow.

If Gov. Mike DeWine requests an official federal disaster declaration, the decision of whether to release any disaster assistance rests in the hands of President Donald Trump.

In the meantime, emergency officials say expense documentation is key.

FEMA urges anyone repairing tornado-damaged property to hold onto their receipts in case of future reimbursement.

FEMA's damage assessment is scheduled in Ohio on Wednesday and Thursday, as follows:

Montgomery and Greene counties – June 5 and 6; Auglaize, Hocking, Mercer and Pickaway counties – June 5; and Darke, Miami, Muskingum and Perry counties– June 6.

Once the joint preliminary damage assessment is complete, state officials say FEMA and the SBA will provide a report to the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.

If the impact from last week’s storms do not meet federal criteria, there may be assistance available from entities such as the Ohio Development Services Agency, the Treasurer of Ohio, and local long-term recovery committees.