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Oregon counties could qualify for federal assistance as damage report reveals extensive impact of arctic blast in the state

Oregon – The Pacific Northwest faced a severe weather challenge in January when an arctic blast brought snow and ice, leaving behind a trail of destruction characterized by downed trees and power lines. The Oregon Department of Emergency Management (ODEM) has released an initial damage report estimating that the winter weather wreaked havoc amounting to approximately $72 million across the state.

Initially, ODEM’s assessment found the damages to be around $68 million, affecting 16 counties. However, this figure was later updated to $72 million. A significant portion of this, about 51%, was attributed to damages to public utilities, specifically targeting Public Utility Districts and private non-profits. This statistic excludes for-profit utilities like PGE.

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Furthermore, 18% of the estimated damages were due to the costs associated with debris removal from public roads and rights of way. The comprehensive damage also includes over $16 million attributed to damage to public infrastructure and response costs, as reported by Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties. Yet ODEM points out that exact figures are pending further evaluation.

Lane County emerged as the hardest hit, with more than $40 million in estimated damages. This stark figure underscores the storm’s intensity and its broad-reaching effects on communities and infrastructure.

These figures are part of an initial assessment, with ODEM and its emergency partners saying that the total could fluctuate as more detailed evaluations are conducted. The state agency has also indicated that 11 Oregon counties could qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance through a major disaster declaration. In anticipation, a Joint Preliminary Damage Assessment with FEMA is expected within the next 30 days, a step that might lead to a Major Presidential Disaster Declaration.

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Governor Tina Kotek stands ready to request a Major Disaster Declaration for the significantly impacted counties once the joint assessment concludes. In addition to federal assistance, the state is coordinating with the Small Business Administration to support 1,172 small businesses that have reported economic impacts due to the storm.

This January 2024 storm has entered the records as one of the highest initial damage assessments for Oregon, according to ODEM. The storm’s severity was evident as it knocked down over 350 trees and large branches in Portland alone, with significant tree falls reported on homes in Lake Oswego and Oak Grove. At its peak, the storm left half a million homes without power, prompting extensive repairs and equipment replacements by crews, with PGE acknowledging the event as one of the worst experienced by the utility company.

While the 2020 wildfires remain the most costly disaster in recent Oregon history, with damages exceeding $541 million, January’s storm has undeniably left a significant mark on the state, highlighting the relentless challenges posed by extreme weather events.

Lavinia Beaumont


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