The Tornado That Didn't Wreck Enough to Warrant Federal Aid

A Massachusetts city is denied FEMA assistance after being blindsided by a twister that did major damage—but not quite enough.

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People observe the damage in the back of several houses in Revere, Mass. Monday, July 28, 2014, after a tornado touched down. (AP/Elise Amendola)

Tornadoes are relatively rare in Massachusetts. So when a EF-2 twister with winds of up to 120 miles per hour touched down in the densely populated city of Revere just outside Boston on Monday, it took everyone by surprise.

While nobody was killed and there were no serious injuries, the damage to some homes was intense. But the destruction wasn’t particularly widespread compared to some monster storms that have flattened entire towns in more tornado-prone areas of the country.

Now, in the middle of cleanup and recovery, Revere residents have received some unpleasant news: The destruction appears to not have been severe enough to qualify for federal relief.

According to WCVB-TV:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Public Assistance Program has a threshold of $9.1 million in damages, and the FEMA Individual Assistance Program requires 100 homes to be destroyed or majorly damaged.

In the Revere tornado, 65 buildings were damaged, with 13 rendered as uninhabitable, according to the television station.

At a town meeting on Wednesday, Mayor Daniel Rizzo took questions from angry residents who wanted answers why there isn’t more state or federal assistance.

The Boston Globe reported:

At Wednesday’s meeting, several residents slammed the Federal Emergency Management Agency for not providing aid. Officials said that while the state’s congressional delegation was working to secure various kinds of federal assistance, the tornado damage simply does not meet the agency’s criteria for a disaster.

“I share your frustration. We can fight, fight, fight, but the guidelines are the guidelines,” an exasperated Rizzo told angry residents. “I can’t march up to the federal government and say, ‘You’re going to pay us whether we qualify or not.’

“You should be sure that we are going to continue to fight for every dollar we can to subsidize your losses.”

Impacted residents, in many ways, will shoulder most of the recovery burden and some damage likely won’t be covered by insurance. And while the city has taken action to clear streets of debris, the Globe points out that city crews, because of liability concerns, can’t remove fallen trees from private property.

State agencies, including the Massachusetts Division of Insuranceand the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, have been on the scene in Revere to help the city and its residents with recovery efforts.

“We’re really here in support of the city,” MEMA spokesman Scott MacLeod said in an interview with Revere TV. “Any resources or assets that they need from the state, that’s kind of why we’re here trying to help facilitate. I know they’ve organized a number of state agencies as well as private insurance companies so if residents have questions about their insurance coverage or just questions in general this is the place for them to come.”

Meanwhile, the city continues to take the lead role on recovery coordination with relief organizations, including the Red Cross. The city's police department has been patrolling damaged areas to prevent theft. And Rizzo, on Thursday, announced the formation of a city recovery fund and is soliciting donations.

It’s unclear at this point just what kind of state or federal monetary assistance might materialize. Rizzo, in an interview with WBZ-AM newsradio, said:

“Right now we’re trying to document a lot of the damage that we‘ve had so we can have a basis for submitting some sort of claim to both the state and federal governments to help out financially with the clean-up. Because obviously, it’s going to take a lot in a city like Revere that just doesn’t have the resources.”

Sometimes, state recovery aid can take time to come together. In May 2012, Patrick announced a $2.1 million financing package for historic homes damaged in a destructive and deadly June 2011 tornado in Springfield, which was rated as an EF3 storm with winds up to 160 miles per hour.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said of the state at the time,according to The Republican newspaper: “They’ve been a great partner in not only helping us rebuild structures and infrastructures, but lives as well.” 

WATCH: Revere, Massachusetts, takes stock of the tornado damage

This post originally appeared on Government Executive, an Atlantic partner site.

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About the Author

  • Michael Grass is the Senior Editor of Government Executive, a partner site of the Atlantic