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As State Appeals FEMA Decision, Eastern Ore. Asks, 'What About Us?'

Winter storms in January caused more than $17 million in damage in eastern Oregon. (Ore. Office of Emergency Management)
Winter storms in January caused more than $17 million in damage in eastern Oregon. (Ore. Office of Emergency Management)
May 22, 2017

NYSSA, Ore. — The federal government's decision not to provide aid for Oregon counties after damaging winter storms has some in eastern Oregon asking, "What about us?”

The state is appealing the Federal Emergency Management Agency's decision not to provide assistance to the region, which suffered more than $17 million dollars in damages from winter storms and is still recovering. Tiffany Cruickshank of Snake River Produce in Nyssa said three of her company's onion storage buildings collapsed from heavy snowfall, along with hundreds of other buildings in the area.

"There's a building in downtown Vale that collapsed that, honestly, without federal funding or assistance, it probably will just be a pile of rubble rather than being cleaned up,” Cruickshank said.

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Greg Walden have just sent a letter to the acting administrator of FEMA asking for clarity on why the state was denied assistance. The request for aid included ten Oregon counties. Idaho's request for assistance also was denied.

Cruickshank said Ontario schools also need aid, after spending more than $800,000, mostly on snow removal. The state has offered some help, with Gov. Kate Brown describing the state's role as helping to match businesses up with agencies that can offer help.

But Cruickshank said what's really needed is financial assistance. Compared to other natural disasters, the storms garnered little national media attention, and she hopes that turns around as the area thaws out and the damage becomes evident.

"I'm hopeful that some good can come out of this disaster, and that people will start paying a little bit more attention to Malheur County and eastern Oregon,” she said; "because we're here, and Malheur County is the poorest county in the state and oftentimes, we are left out."

Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said his team is collecting information for the state's appeal. He said he's been able to measure the severity of the storms in part based on the response from eastern Oregonians.

"When they're calling us asking for assistance or telling us they're having a really bad day, they're having a really bad day,” Phelps said. "The folks in central and eastern Oregon, they are really adept at taking care of themselves and taking care of each other, and working together as communities to get through tough times."

While Phelps remains hopeful, he said FEMA appeals rarely succeed.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR