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No FEMA funding coming to Olean after severe rainstorm

The picture shows downtown Olean. The foreground shows a roundabout with a grass and plants in the middle. Cars are entering and exiting the roundabout. One road extends in the background of the photo. The street is lined with signs and buildings. Forested hills and cloudy but bright skies are in the background.
Andre Carrotflower
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Wikimedia Commons
The June 20 rainstorm was localized "very centrally" in Olean, according to Cattaraugus County Emergency Services Director Chris Baker.

The storm dumped 4.4 inches of rain on Olean in under two hours. Water inundated basements and stranded cars. Wind felled trees and knocked over power lines. One building partially collapsed.

Olean residents might get some state or federal disaster relief funding in the end. But two weeks after the June 20 storm, at least one thing is certain: none of that money will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

That’s because the storm only caused about $430,000 in damages, a fraction of the approximately $34 million in destruction that a natural disaster must wreak before New York State can ask FEMA for a disaster declaration and relief funding.

“People automatically think that if there’s a disaster, there’s FEMA money, but you have to make the thresholds,” Cattaraugus County Emergency Services Director Chris Baker told WBFO. “We’re not even close.”

But even though they don’t qualify for relief from FEMA, Baker says that the county has “reached out to every agency that we know of to try to help people out.” That help could take the form of, for example, low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.

“This is what we do every day: we put the files together, submit them and see what happens,” Baker said. “That’s what we do.”

Forty-two Olean residents have reported storm damage to their homes or businesses, according to Baker. The county is encouraging those affected by the storm to take pictures of any damage and to hold onto any receipts from clean-up efforts in case funding comes through. Baker also recommends getting flood insurance.

No one was injured in last month’s storm. One building on State Street partially collapsed and was later condemned. People living in apartments on the second floor were moved to other residences, according to Baker.

First responders fielded 60 calls during the storm, almost entirely in Olean, Baker said, describing it as “nothing for call volume” during a storm.

The storm also caused Olean’s wastewater treatment facility to overflow and discharge about 200,000 gallons of untreated sewage into the Allegheny River, the second major spill at the facility in recent months.

The Seneca Nation said in a statement this week that its legal department had filed a notice of claim against Olean in response to the spills, allowing the nation to file a lawsuit at a later date. The Allegheny River runs through the Seneca Nation’s Allegany Territory.