STJ Exclusive: FEMA Deputy Administrator Erik A. Hooks to survey damage in Selma Tuesday

Published 12:30 pm Monday, January 16, 2023

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced today that Deputy Administrator Erik Hooks will be in Selma Tuesday to meet with state and local officials about ongoing response and recovery efforts following the devastating tornadoes that hit Selma and other parts of the state last Thursday. While in Alabama, Hooks will also travel to Autauga County, where six people died in Thursday’s storms, to survey damage.

Hooks is second in charge of FEMA, and his visit to the city to meet with officials and survey damage is noteworthy in that it underscores the focus the federal government is putting forth to help Selma in its recovery efforts. Earlier this week, FEMA announced that President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that federal disaster assistance has been made available to the state of Alabama to supplement state and local response efforts in the areas affected by severe storms.

“I acknowledge Congresswoman Sewell’s engagement at the federal level to get resources here, and I appreciate President Biden, the urgency he recognized getting the declaration made for us and now I see FEMA moving with a sense of urgency,” said Selma Mayor James Perkins, Jr.

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Perkins said while Hooks’ visit is noteworthy and needed, he hopes FEMA will hasten the release of funding to address myriad of immediate needs such as city infrastructure and getting assistance quickly to people who need it.

“What I would ask is that FEMA actually release some of the regulatory demands to these funds for individuals and our community,” Perkins said. “I hope they understand the infrastructure [of the city] was knocked down and that they don’t start penalizing communities because we didn’t dot every I and cross every T, but we actually did the best we could. And when they come we hope they understand that, and that we’re not held to a standard too high to reach to get the resources that we need.”

Don Hartley, who is a regional coordinator with the State of Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said Hooks’ visit will create additional visibility at the federal level of funding needs, but it will take time to happen.

“We have the attention of officials from the local, state, and federal levels and there’s high degree of importance that Selma gets the resources, support, and backing that it needs to be able to respond and recover from this disaster,” Hartley said. “As everybody knows, recovery takes a certain amount of time and then you move into a second phase of recovery, which is long term, and it will take weeks and months. The main word to remember after a disaster like this is patience. People have an impression that as soon as a disaster declaration is made, all this funding is going to be instantaneous, and that’s not the case, especially in a disaster this widespread with this many people impacted.”

To speed assistance from FEMA, Hartley urged people who have been affected by the storm to call the FEMA disaster assistance recovery line to get help. That number is 1-800-621-3362.