Federal agency awards Washington state $12.6 million for 2014 mudslide relief

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2015 6:59 PM

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A federal relief agency will give at least $12.6 million to emergency officials in Washington state for debris removal and to acquire property destroyed during a 2014 mudslide that killed 43 people, a state official said on Wednesday.

The funds are added to the roughly $16.5 million the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has already made available to harmed communities and local agencies through several disaster-relief grant programs, said state Emergency Management Division spokesman Mark Stewart.

FEMA will reimburse state and Snohomish County officials for debris removal costs up to $7.6 million, Stewart said.

It will also pay $5.5 million for local officials to buy properties that were destroyed or severely damaged in the immediate slide area, which will be maintained as open space, Stewart said.

The allocated money comes about 16 months after a rain-soaked hillside collapsed near the community of Oso, about 60 miles (97 kms) northeast of Seattle, killing 43 people.

Residents have also sought relief in other ways. Victims' families have filed wrongful death lawsuits, saying the state, county and hill landowner were aware of the disaster risk but made no efforts to divert the river or relocate homes.

State officials learned on Tuesday the property acquisition money was available, and many local agencies have already applied for reimbursement of debris removal and emergency response costs.

Snohomish County has notified more than 130 property owners affected by the slide that they can expect sales offers for property values assessed from before the slide, said Heather Kelly, long-term recovery lead for Snohomish County.

"This is something that the community has waited for over a year. It will bring a lot of closure and some financial relief," Kelly said.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Lisa Lambert)