Kemp seeks disaster declaration after Idalia pummels South Georgia

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Gov. Brian Kemp formally requested a federal disaster declaration Wednesday for 30 Georgia counties walloped by Hurricane Idalia, a week after the storm made a soggy march through the southern half of the state.

The governor’s request came five days after he posted on social media that he would seek a disaster declaration, and it paves the way for President Joe Biden’s administration to unleash more federal resources to help storm victims.

The Biden administration already approved disaster declarations in Florida and South Carolina on Aug. 31. Kemp’s office said it notified federal officials Friday it would seek the declaration, and a team of state officials surveyed the damage for days to finalize the 30-page request.

Idalia caused havoc in parts of Georgia after it rumbled through a slice of Florida as a Category 3 hurricane. It steadily weakened over the next few hours, before being downgraded to a tropical storm as it churned through South Carolina.

“Most people around the country don’t realize the storm was on the ground and went through a longer path than it did in Florida or South Carolina,” Kemp said during a stop last week to tour damage in Valdosta.

Beleaguered local charity groups said the disaster request will help them serve a crush of needy residents.

“We are thrilled he has made the request. I live in Valdosta, and our area needs it tremendously,” said Eliza McCall of Second Harvest of South Georgia, the largest rural food bank in the state.

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

“It hasn’t slowed our efforts down,” she said, “but it will be key in unlocking benefits for individual families — and lessen the burden on the food bank.”

While some farmers in South Georgia were relieved the hurricane didn’t carve a wider path of damage, others in the region now face fields of mangled cotton, downed trees and devastated businesses.

A day after the storm, Democratic U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock sent a letter to Biden asking him to “expeditiously” approve any federal disaster assistance requests once he gets the formal request from Kemp.

During his visit Friday to Valdosta, the governor said some residents told him they’d never experienced a more violent storm.

“We’re thankful this storm was narrow,” Kemp said during the visit. “We’re thankful that this storm was fast moving, but we’re not thankful that we had a hurricane in the state of Georgia.”