Police and Fire Reports
By Annette Christie
Paw Paw River kayaker still missing
Efforts by multiple emergency services agencies have turned up empty as they continue to search for a kayaker who went missing in the river on February 27. Cory Wright, 35, of Niles was kayaking in the area with two other men when they hit a log and flipped over. One of the men re-surfaced but Wright did not. On Tuesday, two weeks to the day, the Michigan State Police cadaver dog was utilized again with no results. Berrien County Sheriff’s Lt. Marty Kurtz said that the river has been searched from Coloma to the area of the incident by the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department, Berrien County Sheriff’s Marine Division, Berrien County Sheriff’s Dive Team and the Watervliet Fire Department.
Governor declares State of Disaster
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has declared a state of disaster and opened the Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund to local governments in 17 counties and two cities after heavy rainfall and snow melt on Feb. 19-21 resulted in widespread flooding damage. The affected areas include: Allegan, Arenac, Barry, Berrien, Cass, Clare, Eaton, Ingham, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kent, Mecosta, Newaygo, Ogemaw, Oscoda, Ottawa and St. Joseph counties and the cities of Grand Rapids and Lansing. “Thank you to our emergency responders and volunteer services for their painstaking efforts to keep Michiganders safe throughout this flooding incident,” Snyder said. “Protecting the public health and safety of our residents is our top priority. This disaster declaration will provide state assistance to help our communities continue their recovery.” By declaring a state of disaster, Snyder has made available all state resources in cooperation with local response and recovery efforts in the disaster area. The declaration authorizes the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division (MSP/EMHSD) to coordinate state efforts above and beyond what MSP/EMHSD has already been doing in conjunction with local agencies. “We have been working closely with our local emergency management partners in all counties and cities affected by these floods,” said Capt. Chris A. Kelenske, Deputy State Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and commander of the MSP/EMHSD. “My staff will continue to partner with our affected communities as they recover from this incident.” Through the Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund, local governments in the declared counties can apply for grants to receive reimbursement for response costs up to $100,000, or 10 percent of their previous year’s operating budget, whichever is less. Before the recent flooding, many of the impacted communities had implemented mitigation projects designed to lessen the impacts of flooding hazards. While the State does not know the full extent of the damages these projects prevented, a 2017 report by the National Institute of Building Sciences estimates communities save $6 for every dollar spent on mitigation projects.
Disaster declaration effect on Berrien County
As news spreads of the Governor’s disaster declaration for several Michigan counties, to include Berrien County, residents and businesses have asked many questions about what it means for this area. “The Governor’s disaster declaration is a starting place for the State to assess how we may best help our local municipalities,” said Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey. “As specific programs are approved and announced, we will post the information on our webpage and make media releases; but we all should remain patient while appropriate programs are being identified by the State,” he added. The Michigan Disaster Declaration may make grants available through the Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund. Local governments in the declared counties may apply for grants to receive reimbursement for response costs up to $100,000, or 10 percent of their previous year’s operating budget, whichever is less; for reimbursement of response costs or possibly to repair publicly owned property and infrastructure, such as roads or public utilities. “It is currently too early to determine what programs may become available due to the State’s disaster declaration,” said Berrien County Undersheriff Chuck Heit. “The assistance programs that have been announced throughout our local declaration remain available to individuals,” he added. The main programs include those available through the Department of Health and Human Services (apply through https://www.michigan.gov/mibridges for emergency services to those who qualify) and by calling 211 to get connected with volunteer services or programs.” “We’ve learned from other disasters around the country that rumors begin to circulate around the time states declare a disaster,” said Berrien County Sheriff Capt. Rockey Adams, the Emergency Management Coordinator in Berrien County. “We must ensure we give practical and accurate information to the public, through our media partners, to ensure everyone understands the process and has a realistic idea of what is to come. The most common rumor that seems to spread around state level declarations is that FEMA will now be sending teams to help distribute Federal aid. The reality is that the County will continue to work with the State Emergency Management Agency, the State Police, to determine if it is appropriate to petition the United States for a disaster declaration, or to identify other non-disaster programs that may be available. But even before that occurs, we will need to continue to assess the needs of our community by working with our non-governmental partners and looking at the reports from 211 calls. It is just too early to tell what programs will indeed be made available,” Adams added. Adams continued to say, “In past emergencies, most programs that are made available are in a reimbursement or low interest loan style. We will work with the State to apply for the appropriate relief programs, and the applications do take some time to be completed, submitted, and approved. There is also the possibility that some of our applications could have the outcome that we do not qualify. It’s too early to promise what will be approved and what will not be.” Adams adds for future family planning, “The National Flood Insurance Program (https://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program) is certainly a program that residents and businesses should strongly consider moving forward.” The National Flood Insurance Program aims to reduce the impact of flooding on private and public structures. It does so by providing affordable insurance to property owners, renters and businesses and by encouraging communities to adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations. Flood insurance claims do not require a Federal State of Emergency to be declared. Many people think Federal grants, if made available, will restore their property to the original condition. The reality is that grant amounts are often much less than what is needed to recover. A claim against your flood insurance policy could and often does, provide more funds for recovery than those you could qualify for from FEMA or the SBA.
United Way continues donation effort
The United Way of Southwest Michigan wants to thank the community and area agencies, churches, and organizations for pulling together and helping the victims of the flooding. At this time, they cannot accept donations of clothing, food, cleaning supplies or other ancillary items on behalf of our residents. They are still getting residents back in their homes and are in the process of identifying their needs. They appreciate everyone’s patience and generosity. Please watch local media and the United Way of Southwest Michigan Facebook page for any items that are needed. As part of the relief and recovery effort, the United Way of Southwest Michigan has created a web page where those wishing to donate cash or household items can enter that information. Go to http://www.uwsm.org/relief and click the donate items button and log what items they have to donate. The United Way will create a detailed list of those items that will be available for later distribution to those in need. Click on the donate funds button to enter your cash donation. United Way will continue to accept funds with 100% going directly to disaster relief assistance. Immediate cleanup assistance is being provided by a team of volunteers who can help homeowners clean out their homes that were affected by the flood. Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster response organization, has launched Operation Barren Heart to support residents of Berrien County following the recent flooding. Team Rubicon will conduct damage assessments, muck out operations, and debris removal. Team Rubicon performs its services at no cost to those affected, thanks to the generosity of donors. Residents seeking assistance are urged to call United Way’s 211. The Michigan 211 Contact Center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and has a translation service with over 180 languages available. They can also be reached by calling their direct number created for this response at 269-224-0310. A disaster assessment team will meet with the homeowner to review the no cost services they provide.
Spring forward by restocking emergency kits
With Daylight Savings Time just past, the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division (MSP/EMHSD) is encouraging Michiganders to restock their emergency preparedness kits as they “spring forward” and move their clocks ahead one hour. “While we continue to see snow in our forecasts, the possibility of severe weather and flooding in Michigan increases as we move into the spring season,” said Capt. Chris A. Kelenske, Deputy State Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and commander of the MSP/EMHSD. “By acting now and replenishing or building an emergency preparedness kit, you will be better prepared in the event of an emergency or disaster.” When a disaster strikes, you may have to evacuate, take shelter or go without basic services such as electricity or water for hours or days. Having enough supplies to function without those services is critical during an emergency or disaster because help may not be able to reach you right away. All households are encouraged to be self-reliant for at least three days by building a preparedness kit. Using five-gallon buckets or similar containers, assemble a kit with the items you and your family will need during an emergency. Essential items to include in an emergency preparedness kit are: Water, at least three gallons of water per person for 72 hours; food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food per person; medications; battery-powered or hand-crank radio; flashlight and extra batteries; first aid kit; whistle to signal for help; a complete change of clothing and footwear for each person; bedding; important family documents; pet supplies (if you have pets). For more information about what to do before, during and after an emergency, go to the MSP/EMHSD’s website: www.michigan.gov/miready.