Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday requested a major disaster declaration from President Joe Biden to support ongoing recovery efforts in counties impacted by severe winter weather that occurred from Jan. 30 through Feb. 2.
Sleet and freezing rain during that time caused about 80,000 power outages and two deaths in Arkansas, according to her letter.
"The sheer magnitude of this event created disastrous amounts of debris, caused extensive power outages, and resulted in the death of two Arkansans and the injury of many others," a news release quoted the governor as saying. "We have determined that these storms were of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary federal assistance is necessary. Thirteen hard-hit Arkansas counties have sustained significant damage to infrastructure, businesses, agriculture, and property -- and we must provide these Arkansans with the assistance they need to fully recover."
Sanders requested assistance for those 13 counties, all but two of which are in south and southeast Arkansas. The 13 counties are Bradley, Calhoun, Cleveland, Dallas, Desha, Drew, Grant, Jefferson, Lincoln, Nevada, Ouachita, Searcy and Stone.
According to Sanders' letter, Arkansas sustained an estimated $8.9 million in damages in Categories A, B and F, which includes debris removal, emergency protective measures and utilities. Most of that damage -- $6.9 million -- was to utilities, according to the letter.
Preliminary damage estimates show a huge impact to local jurisdictions, with damages as high as $199.71 per resident in Cleveland County, wrote Sanders.
"Because several of the hardest hit areas also experienced major damage to infrastructure, industry, trade and local businesses, as well as agricultural enterprises, it is expected that applications for disaster related unemployment will be high," Sanders wrote in the letter to Biden. "While infrastructure is crucial to economic growth, citizens also play a vital role in the need for recovery efforts."
The percentage of people living below the poverty level in the 13 affected counties is 21.1%, with Nevada County representing the largest percentage of 27.7%, according to Sanders' letter. Statewide, 17.6% of Arkansans are below the poverty level, and the state ranks as the seventh most impoverished, she wrote.
Arkansas has had several rounds of severe weather since the beginning of the year, according to the governor's letter.
Besides aid for the 13 counties, Sanders also requested statewide hazard mitigation assistance.
Her letter to President Biden was sent through George A. Robinson of Denton, Texas, regional administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Region 6.