FEMA official: Access to recovery resources a priority

Published 5:36 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2023

By Dennis Palmer

The Selma Times-Journal

Flanked by the Alabama Congressional delegation and state and local officials, Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Administrator Erik Hooks pledged to Selma and Dallas County residents the federal agency, and its disaster relief team, would be in Selma for as long as it takes for the community to seek and receive recovery help.

“I’m always mindful that at the end of every event, as it begins it’s with the community and it focuses on people as it should,” Hooks said. “I’m here today to tell you that we are working hand in hand at all levels of government to ensure everyone impacted by the disaster can access the resources that they need to turn the page on this tragedy and begin their road to recovery.”

Hooks said there were 80 FEMA disaster recovery team members on the ground in Selma, with more coming.

“We have disaster survivor assistance teams going door-to-door in Dallas and Autagua Counties to help survivors apply for federal assistance, and we are working with the state to open disaster recovery centers to ensure that survivors of this tragedy can jumpstart their recovery.”

More than 900 people in the county have applied for assistance already, Hooks said, and he expects that number to rise dramatically as FEMA makes its way through the community.

After the media briefing, Hooks said FEMA is taking a “new approach” to dealing with disaster recovery, thus his visit to Selma.

“Well, here’s the reality of it at FEMA. We are taking a new approach to try to meet every community where they are because no matter how big the scope of the disaster, it’s a true disaster for those individuals that it impacts,” Hooks said. “And so we want to make sure that we’re intentional, and at every disaster we have a federal coordinating officer, too. So we want to give communities the attention and the resources that they need. And I’m glad to be here.”

Terri Sewell, who was raised in Selma and represents the Alabama’s 7th District, and Alabama Senator Katie Britt, who was just sworn into office earlier this month, also attended today’s press briefing and toured storm damaged areas of Selma.

“We are a resilient people here in Selma. We like to say that we are the city that really had the temerity, the audacity to make this country live up to its ideals of democracy and justice and for all,” Sewell said. “We know that this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and that we will do all that we can to engage the community.”

Sewell said she was touched by the outpouring of support her community had given each other in the wake of the tornado.

“Every disaster is bad. This one is particularly heartfelt for me because it’s personal,” she said. Yesterday was Martin Luther King’s birthday, and it was truly a day of service where I saw people from all walks of life come to Selma, rally to help us and we are so appreciative of that and do know that this is also an opportunity for Selma to build back better to be even stronger as a community.”

Britt, who is from Enterprise and went through the 2007 tornado that killed 9 people, was also in Tuscaloosa in 2011 when a tornado tore the city apart and killed dozens of people, lauded the many volunteers who have stepped up to provide relief to Selma.

“I will tell you the people who are hurting right now – you are what are making the difference. You standing up, your willingness to help first responders who stayed up 24 hours, after 24 hours, after 24 hours, to make sure people got the care and attention they needed, that is what makes Alabama so special. I will say as we stand here and the shadow of Dr. King’s legacy, I want to tell each and every one of you, mayors, county commissioners, representatives, state senators, I stand with you. I am proud to be your partner and whether it is today, tomorrow, next week or four months from now, I will continue to walk with you as we make this happen.”