Between 2011 and 2021, Chautauqua County experienced four weather disasters that resulted in more than $2.2 million in federal recovery funding.
$818,000, the most aid received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program after the 2014 spring floods. The same flood had a major impact on Cattaraugus County, resulting in more than $10.3 million in federal assistance.
Information about federally declared disasters was compiled in a recently published report by Rebuild by Design, a nonprofit that studies how to prepare for and adapt to climate change. It was initiated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development after Hurricane Sandy, a devastating storm that hit the eastern United States nearly a decade ago, causing $62.5 billion in damage.
During the 11 years covered by the report, 90% of US counties were hit by weather disasters.
The Associated Press reported in November that some counties were hit by as many as 12 weather disasters between 2011 and 2021. More than 300 million people (93% of the country’s population) live in these counties, according to AP.
As pointed out in Rebuild by Design, the report identifies only federally declared disasters, as there is no entity that collects and publishes state disaster declarations.
Nonprofit researchers had access to data from contractors who work closely with FEMA, allowing them to analyze disasters and payments down to the county level. The report also explored who was most vulnerable, comparing how long people in different locations were without power after extreme weather events.
The largest storm to hit the region during this period is in terms of the support it received after heavy rains hit the southern layer in the second week of May 2014. Gowanda was experiencing flooding following a major event in 2009, and Silver Creek appeared to bear the brunt of the damage.
“Loose trees were flowing down from the hills.” Then-Silver Creek Mayor Nick Piccolo told the OBSERVER newspaper in a May 14, 2014 article. “Some of the problem was that we had 3 1/2 inches of rain on the hill in two and a half hours. It was too much to handle and the ballpark was flooded. There was even a flagpole, but they didn’t enter the building.”
Chautauqua County also “Violent Storms and Floods” For the disaster declared in 2013. $370,500 “Severe winter storms, blizzards, floods” in 2014; and $682,00 “Violent storms, straight winds, floods” 2019.
By comparison, Cataraugas County has declared two disasters from 2011 to 2021, including the 2014 flood event. Overall, Cattaraugus said he received $10,474,000 in federal aid.
Warren and Erie counties in Pennsylvania have not had a federally declared weather disaster in the 11 years studied for this report. As such, none of his FEMA funding related to recovery efforts reached Warren or Ellie.
Forrest County suffered one disaster from Hurricane Sandy in 2013 and received no federal assistance.
Amy Chester, managing director of Rebuild by Design and co-author of the report, said she was surprised some states spent more money on rebuilding than others. Part is that the cost of living varies from state to state. So is the monetary value of anything damaged or destroyed.
“Disaster funds are often skewed towards the wealthier and most resourced communities.” said Robert Bullard, a professor of environment and climate justice at Texas Southern University, who was not part of the team that wrote the report. Brad wrote a book, “Wrong complexion for protection” In 2012, I spoke with Beverly Wright, another environmental and climate justice expert, about how the federal response to disasters often excludes black communities.
The new report seems to support it. Those most vulnerable to these extreme weather events don’t get a lot of money, says the report.
“When disaster strikes … the funds don’t go where they are needed most.” Brad said.
Another reason funding is uneven is that heat waves are exempt from federal disaster law and do not provoke government assistance. If so, Southwestern states like Arizona and Nevada might rank high in per capita spending.
This report, written by policy advocates, not scientists, goes too far in attributing all weather disasters to climate change. that is inaccurate. Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson says climate change has made the climate worsen rapidly, making some hurricanes more powerful and causing disasters more frequently. but, “I don’t think it’s appropriate to call all the disasters we’ve experienced in the last 40 years climate disasters.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.