Winter storms bring plea for federal disaster aid

February 26, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has asked President Clinton to declare Maryland a "major disaster" area because of the severe winter storms, the third time in less than a year that the governor has sought federal disaster relief.

The storms, which occurred from Jan. 4 to Feb. 18, caused an estimated $28 million in damage throughout the state and disrupted services ranging from fuel delivery to trash removal, Mr. Schaefer wrote in a letter sent to the president yesterday.

A disaster declaration would make state and local governments -- and several nonprofit utility companies -- eligible for federal disaster funds that would help pay for storm-related costs.

Roadways and public facilities apparently were hit hardest by the snow, ice and sub-freezing temperatures, with utilities and government operations having to be curtailed during the peak of the storms, the governor's letter said.

"From the weight of the ice on tree branches, damage has also occurred to orchards. . . . Disruption was caused to poultry and livestock feed suppliers, sanitation services, and oxygen-nitrogen suppliers," Mr. Schaefer wrote.

The governor asked -- and received -- Federal Emergency Management Agency funds after last summer's drought, one of the worst in memory for Maryland farmers, and a March blizzard that dumped as much as 16 inches of snow.

The drought caused an estimated $50 million in damage to corn and soybean crops. The Blizzard of '93 shut down shopping malls and airports, closed major highways and knocked out electricity to more than 100,000 homes.

Page W. Boinest, the governor's press secretary, said state officials were optimistic about getting federal relief after the latest round of hardship caused by the weather.

"There were some fairly substantial damages that we'll certainly be able to document," Ms. Boinest said.

The storms -- about a dozen since Christmas -- caused the heaviest damage in Calvert, Charles, Caroline, Dorchester, St. Mary's and Talbot counties, state officials said. In 10 days that began Feb. 8, Talbot spent $544,000 because of ice storms.

If federal disaster assistance is approved, each Maryland county will be entitled to some of the federal aid. The storms cost local governments about $14.4 million, state agencies $9.4 million and public utilities $4.5 million, the governor's letter said.

Throughout the storms, which dropped snow, freezing rain and sleet amid temperatures as low as 20 below zero in some areas, state officials repeatedly asked utility customers to conserve energy. At one point, power companies warned they were on the brink of system failures that were "potentially life-threatening."

Road workers reported critically low salt supplies and logged more than 12,000 hours of overtime trying to maintain roadways.

Federal offices were closed during several of the storms, and many state, city and county government offices, businesses and shopping malls opened late and closed early.

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