Federal officials have rejected Governor Maura Healey’s request for a major disaster declaration for three Massachusetts counties devastated by a September storm that caused widespread flooding and property damage, but Healey plans to appeal the decision, officials said Tuesday.
In a letter to Healey on Sunday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the damage in Bristol, Hampden, and Worcester counties from Sept. 11 to 13 “was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments, and voluntary agencies.”
“Accordingly, we have determined that supplemental federal assistance is not necessary,” FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said in the letter, which was obtained by The Boston Globe. “Therefore, I must inform you that your request for a major disaster declaration is denied.”
On Dec. 11, Healey had asked for individual assistance for two counties, public assistance for two counties, and hazard mitigation statewide, the letter said. Individual assistance is provided to eligible residents and families, while public assistance is primarily for state and local governments.
Karissa Hand, Healey’s press secretary, said the administration “is deeply disappointed” by the rejection.
“We submitted a strong request based on the severe local impacts this storm had on our communities,” Hand said in a statement. “We plan to appeal this decision and will do everything we can to continue our advocacy with our federal partners and support our communities.”
Healey has also instructed administration and finance Secretary Matthew Gorzkowicz to fast-track the distribution of $5 million in flood relief her administration set aside for the affected cities and towns from a package of disaster funding approved by the Legislature, officials said.
The state has 30 days to appeal the denial, and FEMA will work with state officials to identify additional information about the damage that could help support an appeal, Criswell wrote. A FEMA regional administrator will notify state officials about other resources that may be available through different agencies or organizations, she said.
The mid-September deluge brought flash-flooding to parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island that damaged homes, businesses, and public infrastructure.
Leominster was among the hardest-hit communities, inundated by 11 inches of rain within about 24 hours. The downpour washed out roads and train tracks, downed trees, caused sinkholes, and left much of downtown underwater. Pavement on streets, sidewalks, and driveways buckled, leaving jagged cracks and uneven sections with deep drops.
Leominster City Council President David R. Cormier said Tuesday that there is “still a lot that needs to be done” to restore the city’s infrastructure, and many residents have held off on repair work or replacing damaged property while awaiting word on individual disaster relief funds.
“They were hoping for assistance,” Cormier said in an interview. “There’s a lot of basements that are ripped apart, and people were hoping that something was coming so that they could have them restored to what they were prior to the storm.”
Cormier said the flooding in Leominster caused “unprecedented” damage, and he has received countless calls from constituents concerned about getting their homes repaired.
“Some of these people have tens of thousands dollars in damage and . . . don’t have that kind of money laying around to just jump up and say, ‘No problem, we’ll just fix it.’” he said. “This money meant a lot to people. It’s going to make a big difference to them as to how easy it’s going to be to recover from this.”
John DeCicco, a third-generation Leominster resident who lives less than a half-mile outside downtown, said his property sustained only damage to the lawn and landscaping that has since been repaired, but some neighbors lost everything.
“Many homeowners are still in very bad shape because they literally lost their homes as a result of the extensive flooding — homes were condemned because foundations were undermined, and completely flooded out, and [the water] destroyed things,” he said in an interview.
DeCicco, 65, said September’s rising waters had crested over local dams and blown out side walls surrounding them, inundating houses owned by people who had never expected to face the costs of repairing flood damage.
“We live in a particular area where we’re not prone to flooding,” he said. “So naturally, pretty much 99 percent of the people who live in Leominster . . . don’t have flood insurance and wouldn’t have a need to pay that money to get flood insurance, because they don’t live in flood plains, they don’t live in dangerous areas.”
In North Attleborough, flood damage was reported in roughly 200 homes and several roads were closed after the area was hit by about 5 inches of rain in a few hours on Sept. 11, following heavy rains two days earlier that brought the town to a total of about 10 inches in 72 hours, officials said.
North Attleborough Town Manager Michael Borg said local officials were disappointed to learn of the denial “as it would’ve allocated funds to the North Attleborough community for flood relief.”
“We understand that Governor Healey intends to appeal this decision and we are fully supportive of that effort,” Borg said in a statement. “We believe that FEMA must amend its decision in support of our residents who were impacted by September’s flood. In the meantime, we will continue to work diligently with our local and state partners to assist with flood relief where we can.”