Disaster declaration issued for Baldwin

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FAIRHOPE – President Donald Trump issued a major disaster declaration for Baldwin County and other areas affected by Hurricane Sally, local and federal officials said Sunday.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor toured the Baldwin Gulf Coast and other areas affected by the storm on Sunday.

“Today, we had driven around to witness firsthand some of the damage that’s out there in communities, meet some local officials, many of them are behind me today, and most importantly meet disaster survivors impacted by Sally,” Gaynor said.

He said the declaration will allow federal assistance to help residents, businesses and local government agencies recover from the hurricane.

“Response and recovery works best when it’s locally executed, state managed and federally supported. Today, the president approved a major disaster declaration for three counties and a tribe, Baldwin, Escambia and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians,” Gaynor said.

Hurricane Sally made landfall as a Category 2 storm in Gulf Shores at 4:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Brian Hastings, director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said Hurricane Sally’s impact on Baldwin County is being called worse than that of Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

“What I know is there were about 55,000 meters that were offline in Ivan. There were 80,000 plus meters that were off during Sally,” Hastings said.

He said utility crews are working to repair the damage.

“There are over 1,500 crews on the ground trying to put your power back online. There are linemen everywhere,” Hastings said. “There are trees on power lines. There are root balls ripping up utilities and it’s going to be a very long process. We are in no hurry to shut down sheltering. If you need sheltering, please contact your local EMA.”

He said many areas will still be without power for days.

“It’s so hard and we know that some of you are going to be without power for seven or 10 or more days depending on where you live in Baldwin County and we just want to make sure that,” Hastings said. “Be patient. We haven’t forgotten about you and the whole team is going to come together to try to get you back online.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne said the fact that the disaster declaration was approved by Trump within 48 hours of the request shows that the federal government is committed to helping the area. He said recovery efforts have already begun.

“We’ve made a lot of progress just since Friday, the last time I was down in Orange Beach, but we’ve got a lot of progress to go,” Byrne said. “A lot of us are still without power. A lot of people still trying to clean their houses. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Jo Bonner, chief of staff to Gov. Kay Ivey, said crews from around the country are working help recovery efforts.

“We are grateful that there is so much progress that’s been made. Baldwin County still has a lot of homes that don’t have power, but Baldwin County was Ground Zero where this storm hit. So, to the linemen that have come in from 18 different states,” Bonner said. “They’re working with Riviera Utilities and Baldwin EMC, Fairhope Electric, we want to say thank you. We’re glad to have you in Alabama and we hope you can come back with your families in the future and visit our beautiful state and beautiful Gulf Coast when you’re not helping us get our power restored.”

Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said the local community is going to need outside help to recover.

“We cannot provide the assistance that our citizens need because 100 percent of our Gulf Shores residences and businesses were impacted, some of them really, really bad,” Craft said. “This has been a difficult situation for everybody.”

Gaynor said anyone wanting to apply for assistance can call 1-800-621-3362 or go to disasterassistance.gov and register. They can also download the FEMA app to register.

“Before you’re eligible for federal assistance, FEMA assistance, you have to register,” he said.