FEMA rejects individual disaster aid for tornado-ravaged Coweta County

Gov. Brian Kemp had appealed FEMA’s decision
04/12/2021 —Newnan, Georgia — A powerful tornado devastated parts of Newnan in March. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

04/12/2021 —Newnan, Georgia — A powerful tornado devastated parts of Newnan in March. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

The Biden administration has rejected Georgia’s appeal for individual disaster assistance in Coweta County, where a massive tornado devastated neighborhoods in March.

In a letter this week to Gov. Brian Kemp, the Federal Emergency Management Agency wrote “the impact to the individuals and households from this event was not of the severity and magnitude to warrant the designation of the Individual Assistance program.” Such assistance includes financial aid and services for people with uninsured expenses.

Packing 170 mph winds, the tornado ripped through 39 miles of Heard, Coweta and Fayette counties, destroying 70 homes, damaging more than 1,600 others and battering Newnan High and Atkinson Elementary schools.

In May, President Joe Biden declared a disaster in Georgia, making federal funding available for state and local government recovery efforts in Coweta and other counties. But many residents with uninsured property losses are still struggling in the wake of the storm, Newnan Mayor Keith Brady said.

“A lot of the people we are talking about here are on fixed incomes and they have no way of going out and raising the money that they are going to need to put their lives back in order with their property,” Brady said. “I am just astounded that the federal government has decided that they don’t want to come down here and help these individuals. They have failed these citizens.”

FEMA issued a prepared statement Friday, saying Kemp appealed its “original denial of Individual Assistance and FEMA found that its original evaluation was correct.”

“The biggest factor when determining the need for either public or individual assistance is whether the state and local jurisdictions have the resources available to meet the recovery needs,” the agency said.

Coweta County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Blackburn was disappointed by the news.

“We will continue pursuing all available resources to seek aid for the individuals impacted and work together as a community on long-term recovery efforts despite this decision,” he said.

James Woodall, Georgia’s NAACP state president, called FEMA’s decision “egregious and un-American.”

“Families are suffering through no fault of their own,” he said. “We detest this lack of action to the highest degree.”

Robert Trammell, a former state legislator who represented the area in the Georgia Legislature, said FEMA has “failed Newnan residents. Period. I don’t understand this decision at all.”