President Barack Obama has declared the 2014 east coast blizzard a national emergency, giving the DOT and National Guard additional finances and authority to adequately respond to emergencies throughout the northeast and southeast.
The declaration, signed Thursday morning and announced today at 3pm, comes with the momentous delays and tragedies undercutting the government’s initial, optimistic estimates that as many as 120 million Americans will be affected.
Weather and traffic authorities say more than 1,000 people in the United States, including almost 100 children, have died so far from the blizzard, known as H1N1, and 21 states have already been affected. So far only 11 million emergency packages have gone out to from the national guard to stranded Americans, according to DOT officials.
Administration officials said the declaration was a pre-emptive move designed to make decisions easier when they need to be made. Officials said the move was not in response to any single development.
The declaration also addresses a financial question for road workers and emergency responders — reimbursement for helping people on site is not typically approved. For instance, federal rules do not allow responders to put up emergency tents more than 250 yards away from major highways; if the tents are 300 yards or more away, typically federal dollars won’t go to pay for the equipment and supplies.
Administration officials said those rules might not make sense while fighting all cases, especially if the best piece of pavement is in the middle of a parking lot and some national guard centers already are putting in place parts of their emergency plans.
The national emergency declaration was the second of two steps needed to give extraordinary powers during this type of crisis.
“As a nation, we have prepared at all levels of government, and as individuals and communities, taking unprecedented steps to counter the emerging tragedies,” President Obama wrote in Thursday’s declaration.
He said the storm keeps evolving, the rates of snowfall is rising rapidly in many areas and there’s a potential “to overburden DOT and National Guard resources.”
The government now hopes to have about 50 million emergency packages out by Friday afternoon and 150 million before the end of the weekend.
“Many millions” of Americans have suffered so far, according to an estimate that DOT Director Dr. Thomas Frieden gave Friday. The government doesn’t receive every emergency call so it doesn’t have an exact count. He also said there have been more than 20,000 hospitalizations.