Early snowstorm in Washington region declared natural disaster

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 5, 2010

The big pre-Christmas snowstorm that struck the Washington region was formally declared a disaster Thursday, putting the District, Virginia and Maryland in line to recoup millions of dollars from the federal government.

All three jurisdictions also plan to seek federal disaster relief for the back-to-back blizzards that paralyzed the region in February.

In declaring the December storm a disaster, President Obama made Virginia eligible to recover some of the estimated $49 million it requested for snow removal and storm-related costs.

"We don't know just yet how much we will get reimbursed," said Bob Spieldenner of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. "They only reimburse 75 percent of the requested amount, and we expect some of [the requested $49 million] will get disallowed."

Maryland asked for just under $5 million but might have to request more aid.

"We estimated the eligible expenditures as a little more than $4.7 million, but some jurisdictions [that were not included] likely will appeal . . . and if they win their appeal to be included, that will increase the amount," said Edward McDonough of Maryland's Emergency Management Agency.

The state was required to base its requests on official snowfall calculations from the National Weather Service, he said, and some counties that got less snow could appeal their exclusion.

District officials did not provide information on the amount of money they requested, but Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said in a statement: "We appreciate the Obama Administration's swift decision to reimburse the city for recovery efforts related to the 2009 storm, and are preparing to apply for additional support for the February winter storms."

The storm that began on Dec. 18 was the first major dose of snow in what has become the snowiest winter on record. It delivered 16.6 inches at Reagan National Airport, but two feet or more fell elsewhere.

The declarations cover snow removal, some infrastructure damage, removal of debris and storm-related emergency services. They do not cover losses by individuals or businesses.

All three jurisdictions are calculating the cost of last month's twin megastorms and expect to apply for additional federal disaster relief this month.

"It's probably safe to say it will be bigger, or at least as big, compared to the December number," Spieldenner said. "We're just compiling those numbers and getting some of the final numbers in from the localities."

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