Tornado Debris Removal Headache Hits Local Governments

Wednesday, June 1st 2011, 10:20 pm
By: News 9

Michael Konopasek, News 9

PIEDMENT, Oklahoma -- Piles of debris from last week's tornadoes are still littering streets throughout the region as government agencies assess the destruction for debris removal. Many people are left wondering who is responsible for removing the debris and when they can expect it to be cleaned up.

Giant piles of twisted metal and wood are common sights throughout Piedmont. Residents say it's safety concern and nuisance for people trying to piece their lives back together.

More than a week later, Piedmont resident Michelle England continues to add her belongings to an ever-growing pile of destruction, with a simple question in mind, "What do we do next?"

She's not the only one asking who is responsible for picking up the debris. Many are asking if it is up to the city, the county, or FEMA.

Canadian County Commissioner Jack Stewart, who represents a district with much destruction, says the buck will stop with the city and county governments, which will ultimately foot the bill if FEMA does not provide money to help.

"Next week we'll work with FEMA and see what their plans are, and we'll come up with a game plan," Stewart said.

Oklahoma's Department of Emergency Management says it is optimistic FEMA will provide local governments up to 75 percent of the cost for removing debris, but FEMA itself will not be cleaning hard-hit areas.

Before FEMA will send the state a check, the state must send FEMA an assessment of the damage.

"It would be nice if [the debris] was in a stack," Stewart said.  "It would help FEMA to measure [the destruction]. It would also help us pick it up when the time comes."

For now, England and many others in Piedmont are left with a mess that is creating concern.

"Should we have another storm with 60 mph winds, we could potentially be struck by our own debris again," England said. "We just want answers."

The city of Piedmont is saying it is a "big problem that doesn't have an easy answer."

Debris removal may come sooner rather than later if FEMA money is sent to the state. The State of Oklahoma says it will send it's destruction assessment to FEMA by the end of this week or early next week.