As California continues to deal with the fallout from weeks of rain and historic flooding, the federal government is trying to help those impacted get the resources they need.
“We have been in constant communication with the state officials as we were watching this start to form,” FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell told Spectrum News, saying she has been in contact with California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “I had a conversation with the governor last week and our regional administrator and our team from region nine, they've been embedded in the state operation center for several weeks now.”
The storms have wreaked havoc on the state’s infrastructure, leading to mudslides and sinkholes, as well as flooding. And while the worst has begun to recede, FEMA says they are working to help the people on the ground.
“As we've seen system after system move through California, we've moved commodities into the area like food and water, tarps, and cots, we also have urban search and rescue teams on standby,” said Criswell. “Earlier this week, maybe towards the end of last week, we activated our Incident Management Assistance Teams, both national and regional, to make sure that we have the right resources in place to support California with whatever they need from the federal family as they continue to experience the impacts from these atmospheric rivers.”
On Capitol Hill, members of the California delegation are watching the aftermath closely, despite being nearly 3,000 miles away.
“The problem is we're not set up from an infrastructure perspective, and from a geology perspective, geography as well to to absorb all that water without having floods,” said Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif.
“In my district, I've got a beautiful little town called Lake Hughes that, unfortunately, is right at the bend in a major creek that when we get these heavy rains, they're subject to flooding, but literally, potentially wiping that entire town out,” explained Garcia. “We've been encouraging LA County to work with the Army Corps of Engineers at the federal level to get a project going to mitigate that and protect and insulate these folks from flooding, rare, dangerous situations. So lives are on the line right now.”
Newly elected Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, D-Calif., told Spectrum News that she and other members of the delegation have reached out to FEMA “to make sure that the state is getting the resources that it needs.” She added they have also been in contact with Los Angeles city and county officials as well.
“I'm committed to working with the environmental caucus, to continue to push these kinds of issues to the forefront and talk about how we can help invest in new technologies and ways to build infrastructure to prepare cities like Los Angeles for the next storm,” said Kamlager-Dove.
The new congresswoman also criticized House Republicans for ending the Select Committee on Climate Change when they took over the majority at the beginning of the year.
“Given the fact that California is dealing with these mega rain storms, we saw ice storms and snowstorms, we're dealing with fires and drought, it's really difficult to imagine why Republicans thought it was necessary to end the select committee on climate change, because all of those things are examples of climate change," she said.
Rep. Garcia said such devastation just one week into the new congressional term will likely impact policy moving forward for the California delegation, and mentioned that both Democrats and Republicans have been pushing for water infrastructure projects.
“California doesn't have a water problem," Garcia noted. "We get plenty of water, we just don't store it when we get it. And now's an example of when we're getting it, and we're not gonna be able to keep it in store long enough to prevent a drought.”
FEMA is continuing to access the situation on the ground with aerial imagery, civil air patrol, and ground teams where possible, according to Criswell. She is continuing to urge Californians to take precautions, create evacuation plans, and have a way to contact loved ones if a quick departure is necessary.
“This is still a very dynamic situation, and just because perhaps your neighborhood in your community didn't experience impacts from one of these previous storms that came through doesn't mean you may not experience some type of impact from one of the future systems,” Criswell explained.
As for how long it could take for California to recover from this natural disaster, Criswell demurred.
“We really need to wait 'till this entire threat passes to get into these communities. So we can go and see really what is the extent of the damage. I'm just not going to have a good answer on the total timeline until we know when these storms are going to be done passing through California,” she said.
The White House has not announced a trip so far for President Joe Biden to assess the damage himself, but the commander-in-chief declared a federal emergency earlier this week to help FEMA coordinate relief.
Wednesday, California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, along with Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., sent an a letter to the Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration asking for support and funding for California’s state transportation entities. On Thursday, a bi-partisan group of California legislators sent a letter to President Biden urging him to grant a major disaster declaration. Such a delaration would "provide a wide range of federal assistance programs for individuals and public infrastructure, including funds for both emergency and permanent work from FEMA and other agencies," the letter says.