Joe Biden declares December wind storm that lashed Maine a major disaster

By Christopher Burns, Bangor Daily News Staff

President Joe Biden has declared the wind storm that lashed Maine in December a major disaster.

That proclamation, issued Wednesday morning, makes public assistance available to Androscoggin, Franklin, Hancock, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset, Waldo and Washington counties as they recover from widespread infrastructure damage. It also makes available individual aid for families that suffered property damage in Androscoggin, Franklin, Kennebec, Oxford and Somerset counties.

“I thank President Biden for his approval of our request for a Major Disaster Declaration,” Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday. “The President’s approval unlocks federal relief funds that will help hard-hit Maine communities and families move forward from last month’s storm. My Administration will continue to do everything possible to help Maine recover from recent catastrophic weather events and to make our communities more resilient to the impacts of our changing climate.”

The wind storm that hit Maine on Dec. 18 left a path of destruction in its wake, flooding dozens of communities as they were inundated with several inches of rain. That rain falling on already saturated soil coupled with winds that reached speeds up to 93 mph in some communities brought down trees and power lines, leaving more than 420,000 without electricity and heat by the time the storm subsided. Power was restored to most Mainers by Christmas, about a week after the storm hit.

At least four people were killed during the storm. One man was killed by a falling tree in Fairfield, another man was killed by a falling tree in Windham and two  women were swept away by flood waters in Mexico.

Mills declared a state of emergency on Dec. 19.

In her January letter to Biden requesting the declaration, Mills wrote that the storm caused an estimated $20 million in damage to roads, bridges, buildings and other public infrastructure.

Additionally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency identified 13 buildings destroyed by the storm, as well as 106 that suffered major damage, 65 that suffered minor damage and another 31 “affected” by the storm. That’s believed to be representative of more widespread damage, according to the governor’s office.

Only 6 percent of properties in those counties had flood insurance prior to the storm.

Further complicating the recovery is a lack of housing, shortage of contractors, cost of replacing appliances and the need for mold remediation, Mills wrote in the letter.

Maine’s congressional delegation supported Mills’ request for a federal disaster declaration.

As part of this disaster declaration, recovery centers will soon open across Maine, where people can learn about and apply for assistance, check their applications, and get referrals, among other services. The governor’s office said the locations of those centers will be announced soon.

This disaster declaration wouldn’t apply to damage from the twin mid-January storms that hammered the coast.

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