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Central Coast counties now approved for direct federal assistance after storm

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Benjamin Purper
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SLO County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, Assemblymember Dawn Addis and Congressman Salud Carbajal answer questions from residents of Vista Court in Los Osos affected by the storm.

San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties are now on the list of California counties under a major disaster declaration from this month’s storms. President Biden added them yesterday after local elected officials pushed for more direct aid to the Central Coast.

The declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to provide individuals and business direct assistance for post-storm recovery. It can support repairs, replacement work, crisis counseling and more.

Biden’s original announcement covered Santa Cruz, Merced and Sacramento Counties. Now the Central Coast counties are all on that list.

Rachel Dion is SLO County’s Emergency Services Coordinator. She said she didn’t expect the federal government to approve this level of FEMA aid so quickly.

“It turns out based on lobbying from our local board and politicians as well as documentation that we had already provided them, with photo and video and numbers for how many people were affected, that they were ready to approve us for individual assistance without actually going out and touring everything,” Dion said.

hibiscus court
Benjamin Purper
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Hibiscus Court in Santa Maria saw major damage from this month's storm.

“So, we are very excited — it was a little unexpected and it was a great surprise.”

Dion said Central Coast residents can now work directly with FEMA to report damage and ask for assistance, instead of going through county websites like emergencyslo.org.

“So there's actually a website and it's DisasterAssistance.gov, and there's also a 1-800 number they can call. It’s 1-800-621-3362. So both of those methods you can utilize to apply for assistance," Dion said.

There is also an app where people can communicate with FEMA directly.

Dion said FEMA will likely give assistance to local residents in three main ways: rental payments for people displaced from their homes, grants for home repairs and low-interest loans to cover losses.

“Also, we are planning on actually bringing FEMA out and establishing what we call a disaster recovery center where we'll actually have locations where people can go and talk to representatives from FEMA. So that's something we're in the process of working on right now.”

Bruce Gibson is SLO County’s District 2 supervisor. He toured hard-hit areas in Morro Bay and Los Osos this week, speaking with local residents affected by flooding and debris flow.

“It's a big deal for folks to recover from this — the damage I saw was really traumatic. And I just want to be sure they have all the help they can get," Gibson said.

"There's going to be irreplaceable things that have been lost, but getting folks back in their houses safe and secure and rebuilding their lives, recovering from this disaster is my top priority. And we'll just be available to them to help in any way we can.”

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Gabriela Fernandez
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Phyllis Schoonbeck's house after Monday's winter storm

Gibson said while recovery is his main focus at the moment, he feels this month's storms have underscored the need to prepare for more extreme weather in the future.

“What we can expect is that weather events are going to become more extreme. As I think the governor is fond of saying, the drys are going to be drier and the wets are going to be wetter," Gibson said.

"As we watch the evolution of climate change we have to expect extreme events, and with that expectation comes a responsibility to plan for them — to mitigate their impacts," he said.

Gibson said one specific goal of his is to figure out how to prevent creeks around SLO County from overflowing, as several did during this month’s storms — including Morro Creek in Morro Bay.

Meanwhile, Monterey County issued several evacuation orders throughout the county over the course of the storms, including throughout the Salinas Valley. The Salinas River overflowed, flooding about 600 acres of farmland south of King City.

Nicholas Pasculli, the county’s Communications Director said farms were the hardest-hit areas throughout the county.

“That's not to say that there weren’t houses involved or other structures, there were. It was a rural area, so the fortunate thing was that it wasn't entire neighborhoods,” Pasculli said.

At one point, the county closed Highway 68, which connects rural communities to the cities of Salinas and Monterey. Several levees broke throughout the area, bringing the Salinas River to dangerous levels and spilling into farmland.

The county feared the flooding would isolate roadways, making it difficult to evacuate.

gonzales river bridge
Monterey County
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Gonzales River Bridge in Monterey County.

“In some cases farmers actually breached their own berm to take pressure off the Salinas River, so it would not impact communities further upstream. Because as you know, the Salinas River is one of the few rivers in the world that flows from south to north,” Pasculli said.

This week, the county released a preliminary damage assessment estimating their agricultural industry has suffered a loss of about 40 to 50 million dollars.

Now that the storm has passed, Pasculli said the county is working closely with the State’s Office of Emergency Services to provide resources for recovery.

Santa Barbara County also saw significant damage from this storm. Central Coast Congressman Salud Carbajal visited Orcutt, Santa Maria and Guadalupe on Tuesday morning, saying in addition to federal aid, he’s pushing for insurance companies to approve more claims to people affected by the storm.

“We're going to press the insurance companies to the extent that we can, with the state insurance commissioner. Many of them, unless you have a policy rider that covers floods, many of them are trying to tell almost overwhelmingly to everybody, 'Nope, there's nothing we can do.' So we're pressing the insurance companies to re-examine if there's anything they can do to help," Carbajal said.

If you experienced damage from the storm, you can visit DisasterAssistance.gov to find out if you’re eligible for federal aid.

Benjamin Purper came to KCBX in May of 2021 from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.
Gabriela Fernandez is a general assignment reporter at KCBX News. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an Associate Producer on the TahoeLand podcast.
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