FEMA faces criticism for its response as flood death toll rises

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FILE – A truck is sunk in water after massive flooding in Hindman, Ky., Aug. 2, 2022. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear complained Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022 that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is refusing too requests for assistance in flood-ravaged eastern Kentucky, and urged those denied to take their cases directly to agency representatives in the area. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

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Governor Andy Beshear called out the Federal Emergency Management Agency for denying too many requests for assistance in flood-ravaged eastern Kentucky, where the death toll from the disaster has risen to 39 .

The official death toll rose Thursday when an additional death was counted in Breathitt County, Beshear said. He did not identify the person or provide other details.

“I ask the Commonwealth to join me in praying for our fellow Kentucky people during this difficult time,” the Democratic governor said in a tweet.

Earlier this week, a high school athlete who spent days helping fellow eastern Kentucky clean up from historic flooding was added as the 38th person to die as a result of the disaster.

Aaron “Mick” Crawford suddenly fell ill and died a few days later. His mother, Ronda Crawford, told the Lexington Herald-Leader that her son “went into cardiac arrest,” but the family still doesn’t know what caused her son’s death.

Rising waters last month washed away homes and flooded communities in the Appalachian region.

On Thursday, the governor said the disaster area was “probably out of the emergency phase of the response to this disaster.” Search and rescue teams who remained in the area to wait out further threats of heavy rain have been given the go-ahead to return home, Beshear said.

“It’s a major milestone that we’ve been waiting for to reach this moment, basically since the beginning of this,” the governor said.

As the massive cleanup continues, the governor has stepped up pressure on federal emergency officials to do more to help more people rebuild their lives.

Beshear complained Thursday that FEMA is turning down too many requests for assistance and urged those turned down to take their cases directly to agency staff in the area. The governor said “we need to see better results” for more eastern Kentuckians applying to FEMA for recovery assistance.

Beshear said he raised his concerns with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and top FEMA administrators. Beshear accompanied Biden on a visit to the area on Monday, when the president said the federal government would provide support until residents were on their feet again.

The governor criticized the application process, saying flood victims were being denied assistance without the necessary documents.

FEMA press secretary Jeremy Edwards responded late Thursday that agency staff would be in the flood-affected area “as long as it takes” to help Kentuckians recover. Edwards said the agency’s management is working to “reduce barriers and reduce red tape.”

“If you’ve been denied help, it’s not necessarily the end of the road,” Edwards said. “Something as simple as a missing document can render an application ineligible. The system is not perfect and we know bureaucracy can be frustrating.

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