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Commerce Department Supports Disaster Relief Across the Country

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A tornado funnel cloud

Only a few weeks ago, an EF5 tornado ripped through Oklahoma.  The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season just began, and forecasts predict that it will be a very active season. Whenever events like these may occur, the Department of Commerce is ready to help communities across the country prepare for and recover from natural disasters.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) is one of the Commerce bureaus that assist in disaster-recovery efforts. Just last month, EDA announced grants totaling $54.1 million for disaster relief to 15 communities in 12 states and territories. For example, EDA announced a $20 million investment that will help redevelop the 20th Street corridor in Joplin, Missouri, where a devastating tornado in May 2011 claimed 161 lives, flattened large sections of the city, and destroyed more than 7,000 housing units.

Some other recently announced recovery projects include:

  • rebuilding a flood-damaged railroad bridge across the Judith River in Montana that provides the sole freight link for numerous farming communities;
  • providing communities in New England that were devastated by Tropical Strom Irene with the means to provide technical assistance to small businesses and local governments; and
  • rebuilding public infrastructure in downtown Minot, North Dakota, an area that was destroyed by flooding of the Mouse River.

These projects are part of a $200 million appropriation made by Congress to EDA to help with long-term economic recovery and infrastructure support in communities that received a major disaster designation in fiscal year 2011.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also has a vital role in disaster recovery efforts. In addition to all the work that NOAA does to help communities make preparations before disaster strikes by forecasting severe weather, the agency also has several important roles in the recovery process. For instance, NOAA response teams scan critical shipping lanes for navigation hazards and debris, facilitating the delivery of much-needed supplies to affected regions. Aerial survey teams assess storm damage using specially-equipped aircraft, capturing birds-eye imagery that help emergency responders make decisions on how best to take action. NOAA also assists in long-term recovery planning in areas affected by a hurricane by conducting economic impact studies and collecting data on the impacts to coastal communities and ecosystems. Additionally, NOAA’s hazardous material officers respond to oil and chemical spills along the coasts and assess injuries to natural resources and critical coastal habitats.

Also, the U.S. Census Bureau produces timely local data – such as population estimates and housing characteristics – that are critical to emergency planning, preparedness and recovery efforts. The Emergency Preparedness page now provides access to information about tornado-affected areas in Oklahoma. And the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Centers help connect businesses in disaster-affected areas with other federal, state, and local resources available to them.

Through these and other initiatives, the Department of Commerce is committed to working with other federal, state, and local partners to help communities affected by disasters rebuild and thrive.

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