FEMA denies Florida request for assistance after Charlotte, Lee tornadoes
Damage from a Jan. 16, 2022 tornado in Charlotte County. Image via Charlotte County public safety.

tornado damage
Federal officials said the damage wasn't too much for the state to handle.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has denied a request for emergency assistance for Lee and Charlotte county residents impacted by recent tornadoes.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM) plans to appeal the decision.

“While we begin the decision appeal process, I want to reassure Floridians that the Division is committed to supporting recovery efforts,” DEM Director Kevin Guthrie said. “We’ll continue to work with our local and federal partners to provide relief to impacted residents and ensure all types of disaster assistance is made available.”

The National Weather Service confirmed two EF-1 tornadoes touched down in Charlotte County on Jan. 16, and an EF-2 touched down in Lee County the same day, according to NBC-2. One of the tornadoes near Placida damaged 35 homes. No one was injured, but more than 300 people were displaced from their homes for various reasons, including power outages. There were also reported tornadoes in Collier County that day.

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Lee and Charlotte counties on Jan. 21.

The state Emergency Management division on Jan. 24 requested help under the Individual Assistance programs run by FEMA, including the Individuals and Households program, Disaster Case Management, Crisis Counseling and Training program, Disaster Legal Services and Disaster Unemployment Assistance.

At that point, many impacted homes still did not have power or utility service, and many lacked water because of broken pipes.

FEMA officials ruled the damage from the storm was not extensive enough to warrant federal response.

“Based on our review of all of the information available, it has been determined that the damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments, and voluntary agencies,” reads a letter from FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to DeSantis. “Accordingly, we have determined that supplemental federal assistance is not necessary. Therefore, I must inform you that your request for a major disaster declaration is denied.”

Criswell said regional FEMA officials would communicate about other resources that may be available through the federal government or volunteer organizations. She also said FEMA will coordinate to see if any additional information about damages justified an appeal, which must be filed within 30 days.

Jeremy Redfern, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health, stressed that the bulk of impacted residents are on fixed incomes.

“FEMA denied Florida’s request for Individual Assistance in an area where 84% of the impacted residents receive Social Security,” he tweeted. “Gov. Ron DeSantis puts Seniors First, and we’d appreciate if FEMA would support Florida’s seniors.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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