Storm Recovery Update

News Update

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We all know it’s been a trying few days in our city.

But as I said when I first addressed the media Sunday, we’ve been here before. We went through the ice storm in 1994. We endured the recovery from Hurricane Elvis in 2003. And we’ve battled major floods, as recently as January 2016. This is when Memphians come together. And this is what I’m seeing when I’ve been out in our city the past three days.

We know that information matters at a time like this, so we’ve been providing regular updates on our recovery efforts on our Facebook and Twitter profiles, as well as on Nextdoor. If you aren’t already following us, please do so now.

To catch you up, here’s where some things stand:

Debris cleanup: A few hours ago, the Memphis City Council approved my request for $6 million from our emergency reserves to pick up debris from this weekend’s storm. This lets us accomplish two things: 1) pick up all debris placed at the curb, and 2) help people who need help to clean up their properties.

This funding allows me to authorize Public Works to pick up oversized debris, which we don’t ordinarily do.

It is important to note that this will not start immediately.

Right now, Public Works’ priorities are clearing streets of trees and picking up garbage in carts in the interest of public health. Public Works will operate in that phase for the next week or two.

The second phase will be when we pick up debris from the curb. This may take six to eight weeks. So we still strongly encourage your contractors to remove debris they’ve cut if they are able.

As for the assistance for people to help clean up their properties, we’ll have more details on that soon. Prioritization will be based on age, ability and income.

We will report back when we have more to share. But I want to express my appreciation for our partners on the City Council as city government works together for all of us through this storm.

Seeking federal disaster assistance: We’ve had a lot of questions about federal disaster assistance, so we want to explain it clearly.

Two things must happen to start the process: Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has to declare a state of emergency, and local government must exceed $9.07 million in costs related to the storm. Mayor Luttrell has made that declaration, and we are working as I write this to tabulate our estimates.

This information then goes to Gov. Bill Haslam. He would then forward that information to the federal government. If we meet the criteria, that opens the door to three things:

1) Assistance from the federal government to local government for a partial reimbursement of our costs. This would be storm cleanup costs, damages to infrastructure or government buildings, etc.

2) Assistance from the federal government to individuals to pay for your damages. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could open a processing center in Shelby County, where individuals could apply for federal financial assistance. (One prerequisite would be that at least 100 uninsured homes must have been catastrophically damaged.)

3) Assistance from the federal government to small businesses. This could mean low-interest Small Business Administration loans for businesses affected by the storm.

I'll update you when we know more.

Replacing SNAP benefits: We’ve also had a few questions about how SNAP recipients could go about replacing their benefits. The state has all of that information here.

Latest numbers: MLGW President & CEO Jerry Collins and Vice President Alonzo Weaver briefed me today on the power restoration efforts. From a high of 188,000 customers that lost power at the peak of the storm, we’re now below 60,000 customers without power.

This is the third-largest power outage in Shelby County history.

MLGW meeting with mayor

Also, let me go ahead and answer a question I’ve received a few times since Saturday: Why don't we just bury all the power lines? A couple of things to know: Forty percent of our lines are already underground, which is the most in the state. It would cost $3 billion -- yes, billion with a 'b' -- to bury them all. In the past 20 years MLGW has spent a total of $100 million on recovery efforts.

Back to the council: In closing, it’s worth noting that Chairman Berlin Boyd rode a 12-hour shift with a Memphis Fire crew yesterday. Council members Frank Colvett, Kemp Conrad and Philip Spinosa Jr. delivered breakfast to Public Works crews the same day. And Budget Committee Chairman Edmund Ford Jr. was the subject of this nice profile in today’s Commercial Appeal.

I’m proud to work with these 13 men and women who want to move our city forward -- and meet challenges like this weekend’s storm -- together.

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