The state still is working to collect information on the full extent of damages caused by mid-May historic rains and flooding in five Michigan counties so Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer can determine whether to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster assistance. 

County emergency operations officials in Midland, Gladwin, Arenac, Saginaw and Iosco counties are collecting data that the state will eventually use in a damage assessment report that will be submitted to FEMA if it decides to request for a disaster declaration, said Dale George, a spokesman for the State Emergency Operations Center. 

Until that disaster declaration is given, public and individual assistance from the federal agency for recovery efforts will be unavailable, but FEMA still is encouraging residents to start repairs. 

"We want people to not wait to start the cleanup process and not wait for FEMA to come in," said Dan Shulman, external affairs specialist for FEMA Region V. "Just make sure they’re keeping track of what their doing, document the damages, document the costs.”

The damage assessment process typically takes up to 30 days but could stretch longer depending on the extent and complication of the damage, George said.  

"It takes time to really capture a picture of what happened," he said. "First you have to wait for the waters to recede and then you have to clear debris which might be covering some of the damage.

"You want to absolutely collect all the information you can so you can make a better case to the federal government," he said. 

Historic rain pounded the five counties in mid-May with the greatest apparent damage occurring in Midland and Gladwin counties.

The Edenville Dam, at the border of the two counties, failed in the afternoon of May 19 and caused water to flow over and around a second dam, the Sanford Dam, downstream in the Tittabawassee River. More than 10,000 people had to evacuate.

The five counties previously received an emergency declaration from President Donald Trump, which qualified them for direct assistance from federal agencies, including the National Guard or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The state had requested help from the federal government with mobile bridges to get equipment to flooded areas in central Michigan for debris removal, plus assistance from National Guard emergency responders and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Federal funding will cover 75% of the cost of those measures.

Whitmer's office said in May the assistance was a good start and could be expanded as the state and FEMA officials complete the damage assessment.  

When the damage assessment is complete, the state could request a disaster declaration that would allow FEMA to provide both public assistance — in the form of road and public building repairs — and individual assistance — in the form of repairs homes, George said. 

FEMA also works closely with the Small Business Administration, which has been known to grant low interest loans to struggling businesses. 

"It's too early to talk about what assistance would be available as the damage assessments are ongoing and the state has not yet made a request for assistance," Shulman said. 

The assessment process in the flooded counties has been unique from past emergencies, George said. 

The state and FEMA usually would validate damage reports from residents and local officials through on-the-ground observations and door-to-door visits with folks affected by the damage. 

But to cut down on person-to-person interaction and stem coronavirus spread, the validation process has become largely virtual, George said. 

Residents are encouraged to submit their damage assessments to the county, which combines those assessments with the county's own analysis of damage of public buildings and infrastructure. 

The findings are then passed on to the state, which is working with FEMA at the emergency operations center to validate the claims from Lansing for the final report, George said. 

"We have teams currently going through looking at the stuff individuals have provided, looking at the pictures from county government, satellite footage from FEMA and aerial footage from MSP," George said. 

It's not unusual for the damage assessment to take some time, George said. In the case of Flint's water crisis, the process took a few months before the disaster declaration came through.

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