James Lee Witt promised western Idaho county leaders Sunday that the federal government will do all it can to help with millions of dollars of damage caused by landslides and flooding in the past week.
“We’re here to help you get your lives put back together, as a team, as a partnership,” the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. “We’re here to be a good neighbor to you.”
Witt joined Gov. Phil Batt, U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, and representatives of several other federal agencies in a helicopter tour of damaged areas north and west of Boise on Sunday.
They also met with local officials in Boise and Payette counties - two of the 13 in Idaho that were declared federal disaster areas by President Clinton on Saturday.
The federal delegation toured Nevada flood areas earlier Sunday and was scheduled to travel to California today.
The local Idaho leaders urged Witt to get financial aid to them quickly.
“I cannot believe the cooperation between the federal agencies, between the state agencies. It’s been unreal,” Boise County Commissioner John Dyer said during Witt’s stop in Idaho City.
“What we need now, though, is money, and a lot of it because our roads are in terrible shape,” he said.
Dyer said Old Highway 17 between Banks and Garden Valley was the hardest hit. Mountainous Boise County has a total budget of $4 million, but, Dyer noted, “It’s going to take a lot more than that just to rebuild that one road.
Seasonally colder, drier weather continued reducing the danger of more floods Sunday, and receding water in the Payette River gave residents a chance to start assessing damage.
The Idaho Transportation Department expected to have U.S. 95, Idaho’s only north-south land route north of New Meadows, open to limited traffic by today.
But Idaho 55 south of the resort town of McCall, as well as Idaho 21 north of Idaho City, remained blocked by a number of mud and rock slides.
That left scores of people in such communities as Lowman and Garden Valley still largely isolated.
“The morale of the people in there has really been good,” Boise County Commissioner John Ford said. “It’s typical rural county, with people coming together in a crisis.”
Besides Boise and Payette counties, the 11 declared disaster areas are Adams, Boundary, Bonner, Clearwater, Elmore, Gem, Idaho, Latah, Shoshone, Valley and Washington counties.
The disaster declaration makes available such aid as temporary housing assistance, grants for serious disaster-related expenses and low-interest loans to cover uninsured homes and business property losses.
Also on Sunday, rescuers in Washington County recovered the bodies of five people who died Thursday afternoon in a plane crash after they left the resort town of McCall.
The rescuers traveled on two helicopters to the rugged and snowbound crash site on Cuddy Mountain, 20 miles northwest of Council.
The Boise pilot was flying back to Boise in a snowstorm after fetching vacationers stranded in McCall by flood-damaged roads.