President Barack Obama today approved the state’s request for a “major disaster” declaration for areas of North Idaho impacted by a disastrous Nov. 17 windstorm, which included winds gusting to more than 100 mph and caused extensive damage in Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, and Kootenai counties.
The White House’s declaration frees up federal funds on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and repair of damage to public facilities and utilities. The federal aid is available to local governments, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and certain private nonprofits, including electric utility cooperatives, in the affected area.
“These were hurricane force winds that caused wide scale and extended blackouts,” Gov. Butch Otter said in a statement. “The level of destruction that happened in such a short time was widespread and significant and caused untold suffering and economic disruption.”
Electric cooperatives within the four-county area suffered significant damage to infrastructure, the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security reported; power outages lasted for more than a week in some cases.
“The region was left in the dark for days creating austere conditions at a time of year when snowfall and below freezing temperatures are commonplace,” said Brad Richy, bureau director. “This presidential disaster declaration means federal funding will be made available to lessen the dire financial burden on taxpayers and power users.” Lt. Gov. Brad Little issued a state disaster declaration for the four counties on Dec. 7, with an initial damage estimate of $2.6 million. That prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in cooperation with state and local officials, to conduct a detailed damage assessment to determine eligibility for federal aid.
According to the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, the windstorm was the worst natural disaster to affect Kootenai Electric Cooperative in its history, with more than 17,000 of its 24,500 members losing power. All of Inland Power and Light’s customers in the area lost power during the storm, as did all of Clearwater Power Cooperative’s customers. Northern Lights saw 12,000 of its 18,000 customers lose power.
The state of Washington is working on a similar declaration request; there’s more on that here from S-R reporter Jim Camden.