Tornado rips through county

Emergency officials coordinate their efforts at the command center at Vernon Township Fire Hall in the village of Vernon.

CORUNNA — Shiawassee County’s request for a state declaration of emergency and disaster relief in connection with a pair of March 14 tornadoes has been rejected, local officials announced Monday.

“We are obviously disappointed in (Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s) decision,” County Board Chairman Jeremy Root said. “She called me personally and said she would help and then we received the call last week denying our request, it’s just disappointing.”

Trent Atkins, Shiawassee County director of Emergency Management, said while officials are disappointed, the denial indicates how well prepared the county was.

“We did too good of a job,” he said. “We had great plans in place. We rallied other resources through mutual aid. The community came together. We had hundreds of volunteers come out.

“We’re disappointed, but proud. Even though we did not receive support from the Governor’s Office, our local efforts showed the resilience of our county,” Atkins said. “Our local fire and law enforcement agencies, with our partners from the Michigan State Police, demonstrated the value of our efforts to prepare and plan for disasters.”

Local officials declared a county state of emergency and sent in a request for the state designation on March 16.

Atkins said there is no option to appeal the denial.

The tornadoes left 18 miles of damaged and destroyed homes and businesses across southern Shiawassee County, generally paralleling I-69. The two tornadoes damaged 136 structures or large vehicles, including 94 homes, four businesses, 16 barns and 22 RVs.

The total cost of damage is estimated at nearly $10 million to homes and businesses in the county.

The National Weather Service said the tornadoes were the first to strike the county in March since at least 1950. The larger tornado was an EF2 while the other was an EF0.

Because Shiawassee County’s request for a state declaration was denied, the request for Public Act 390, Section 19 funding, from the state’s Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund, that provides financial relief to county and local municipalities that participated in the disaster response and recovery operations was also denied by Whitmer.

The assistance through the law would have provided grants, excluding reimbursement for capital outlay expenditures, to mitigate costs to the county or municipalities in relation to their available resources.

Atkins said the denial prevents businesses and homeowners from accessing federal low-interest loans. It also prevents fire and police from requesting grant funds that could defray costs for overtime, equipment use and purchases of items used during the emergency.

The cost of the response for many of the small part-time fire departments reached 10 percent or more of their annual operating budget, officials said. Emergency personnel used the Vernon Township fire station as a base of operations for days after the event and emergency personnel from across the county took part in search, rescue and recovery operations.

“Our fire department is always ready to respond and protect our community, but this disaster squeezed our departments budget,” Vernon Township Supervisor Bert DeClerg. “We are very proud of our community, we came together in whole to support the recovery efforts.”

The efforts by outside volunteer agencies included Team Rubicon, whose volunteers came from as far away as New York. They worked for more than a week on the recovery.

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