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Wilmington to seek disaster funds for Ida flooding

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Flooding ravished parts of Wilmington following Hurricane Ida. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY WILMINGTON

WILMINGTON – City officials are seeking a disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, one week after the Brandywine River flooded at unprecedented levels as Hurricane Ida traveled up the Atlantic Coast.

State officials reported more than 248 water rescues on Sept. 1 as the storm battered the city’s northeast side. More than 200 homes were impacted by the flooding, along with hundreds of cars and several small businesses.

Mayor Mike Purzycki said in a statement the day after the storm that Ida “caused extensive flooding damage” throughout Wilmington and the Brandywine River rose to levels “not seen in a hundred years.”

Power has been restored in some buildings, but dozens of residents are still unable to return to their homes, according to city officials.

A preliminary damage assessment conducted Thursday was a joint effort between FEMA, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and the New Castle County Office of Emergency Management. FEMA officials also visited the Rockland Mills and Hagley Museum areas, which sustained some damage during the hurricane.

The assessment focused on both individual assistance for homeowners and low-interest disaster recovery loans and economic injury loans for small businesses. DEMA will determine whether there is enough of a threshold to request a Major Disaster Declaration, which would open up assistance programs for homeowners and/or public entities, as well as an Emergency Disaster Declaration, which would cover emergency services and other responder expenses.

New Castle County’s emergency management office volunteered with cleanup efforts, coordinated with community leaders to restore power and continues to monitor streams and creeks for overflow and debris. County officials reported that most homeowners in the area had flood insurance. Seven families that were displaced by Ida were staying at the county’s HOPE Center in New Castle as of Friday.

“It’s our hope that after the assessment there is enough damage to warrant a disaster declaration,” said Willie Patrick, director of emergency management for the city of Wilmington.

While not a “fast process” according to DEMA officials, New York and New Jersey were approved for a major disaster declaration this week due to remnants of Hurricane Ida.

A state insurance department official said that under a disaster declaration, federal funds for Delaware would be used to reimburse living space repairs, but not personal items. FEMA assistance cannot aid with losses already covered by insurance, but it would broaden the scope of what is covered.

“Until we get the declaration, we’re under the confines of that person’s insurance policy,” Patrick explained.

Traditional property or renters’ insurance doesn’t typically cover storm-related claims. The state insurance department found a “mixed population” of flood-insured and uninsured homeowners, renters and commercial businesses. The department is currently tracking Ida-related claims but is not publicly releasing an estimated value of the total damage. Of the claims, the most common deductible was about $1,250.

The historic flooding in Wilmington’s northeast side sounded the alarm for officials to boost mitigation efforts there as more severe and atypical weather patterns increase across the board.

“These storms seem to be forming faster and having a more significant impact,” DEMA spokesperson Jeff Sands said. “And as a result, we’re experiencing historical rainfall that is probably going to keep happening.”

The insurance commissioner’s office announced in August that 82 Delaware insurers will participate in a national survey that assesses how the impacts of climate change will reverberate across the insurance industry.

“In Delaware and across the country, residents are feeling the impacts of climate change, and relying on insurers to respond to the heightened risk of damage to our properties, businesses, homes, and lives,” Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro said in a statement. “As natural disasters occur more frequently and with more intensity, the industry must be prepared to provide rapid response.”

Emergency management personnel are currently investigating where the overflow occurred in order to develop protective measures for Wilmington’s northeast side along the Brandywine River.

Patrick pointed to the South Wilmington Wetlands Park, which created a stormwater management facility for Southbridge, a part of the city that has historically been susceptible to flooding.

Depending on what officials find, a mitigation project could be in the works for northeast Wilmington along the Brandywine.

“Our weather has changed dramatically. Tornadoes, severe rains and flooding in the Northeast – a lot of these indicators point to climate change,” Patrick said. “We need to start looking at mitigation practices. We’re not going to prevent floods, but we can minimize their impact. That’s the goal of mitigation.”

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