County falls short of mark for federal storm aid


With a strong coastal storm headed into the area mid-week and a second expected on Saturday, Dec. 5, Sussex County officials offered the unwelcome news at the county council’s Dec. 1 meeting that the county had not qualified to be eligible for federal assistance with recovery from the Veteran’s Day storm that rolled through the area Nov. 11-15, causing flooding, property damage and severe erosion and breaches to beachfront dunes.

County Administrator David Baker said Sussex’s storm damage “did not exceed federal threshold for damage” to private or to publicly-owned property from the remains of Hurricane Ida.

“The damage was less than anticipated and less than the threshold for federal funding,” Baker said. That threshold is set at $600,000 from damage to public or private property from the storm.

County officials had been urging property and business owners to report all storm damage to county emergency officials in order to ensure the county had the best possible chance of qualifying for federal aid monies. In the days following the storm, that had been considered probable in the case of damage to public property and possible with damage to private property, but the county qualified for neither type of aid, in the end.

County officials said they learned from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) late last week that, while the county exceeded its threshold for damage to individual private properties, not enough damage occurred statewide to warrant a disaster declaration.

Such a declaration would have allowed federal dollars, such as low-interest loans, to flow into Delaware to help home owners and business owners pay for repairs following the nor’easter.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed that the federal government will not be able to lend any assistance to our residents and property owners who are now left with the tall task of cleaning up from the recent storm,” Sussex County Emergency Operations Center Director Joseph L. Thomas said. “However, if there is a silver lining in the clouds, it’s that Sussex County and the state did not suffer, on average, as much serious damage as we could have.”

Thomas on Tuesday thanked the public for its response to officials’ request that they report damage in the days after the storm. That information was extremely useful in gauging what areas were hardest hit and what kind of damage was sustained, he said.

With the FEMA decision, Sussex County is no longer collecting information from the public regarding storm damage. Property owners and residents should contact their individual insurance providers to report storm damage and file claims, Thomas said.

Baker said the county would continue to accept photos of flooding or other storm damage, particularly as proof of problem areas that may need future state or federal funding to avoid continued flooding and/or property damage and to keep a record of the last month’s weather events. Visit www.sussexcountyde.gov/stormphotos to upload storm images.

New series of storms sparks concerns about continuing impacts

Thomas also noted on Tuesday that a strong, fast-moving coastal storm was expected in the area on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, bringing 1 to 2 inches of rain and heavy wind, as well as more beach erosion.

“They don’t think there will be the back-bay flooding of the Veteran’s Day storm,” Thomas said. “But it will be an astronomical high tide, so there could be minor tidal flooding.

“Under normal circumstances, this would be a minor storm, but with the condition of our beaches, it could be an issue,” he emphasized of the mid-week storm.

The heavy wave action was considered likely to cause beach erosion and could make conditions worse in areas that sustained serious beach erosion from the Veteran’s Day storm.

Flooding due to the direction of the incoming waves, winds and tide was expected to occur in the early morning hours Thursday, leading up to the high tide, which would occur on the oceanfront between 7 and 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

The National Weather Service’s flood advisory was issued primarily for those areas that sustained flooding and beach erosion from the Veteran’s Day storm. The tidal departures will only reach about a foot above normal, they said.

NWS officials said the impact of the storm would normally be minor tidal flooding. However, the high winds will drive waves up onto the beach at the time of high tide and there may be very heavy rain falling to add to any street flooding.

Thomas also reported on Dec. 1 that the National Weather Service had advised emergency officials and coastal residents to keep an eye on Saturday’s weather as well, as another storm could come through the area on Dec. 5.

That storm was predicted to bring more wind and rain, and possibly snow showers late on Saturday.