Updated at 1:45 p.m. Thursday: President Barack Obama has signed a disaster declaration for Cobb, Douglas, Paulding and Cherokee counties.
A frustrated Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens said Thursday that, after a morning conversation with the chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, that he’s not sure that Washington is aware of the extent of damage caused by days of flooding in metro Atlanta.
Olens said the entire region growing impatient waiting for President Barack Obama to sign a declaration of emergency that would unleash federal resources for the area.
“It’s fair to say that we’re very frustrated. The storm started Sunday, with the real wrath Monday, and we frankly were thinking the presidential order would be signed Tuesday night,” Olens said. “Yesterday we were told that Cobb County had sufficient damage to merit the declaration – but the bureaucratic process seems to take too much time, while people are hurting.”
Olens said he had a “cordial” and “productive” conversation with Napolitano’s chief of staff, Jan Lescher. But he’s not sure that news of metro Atlanta’s plight is getting through.
“When I discussed today the fact that Douglas and Paulding [counties] had boil advisories for days, and that Cobb is assisting Douglas today with both water buffaloes and bottled water – I was clearly given the impression that they were not aware of the full extent of the damage,” Olens said.
The Republican commission chairman said Lescher told him that Homeland Security had sent a draft of the declaration to the White House. Obama’s signature is expected today.
Olens also said that Vice President Joe Biden may arrive in Atlanta on Friday to tour the area, but that the trip is not certain. “To the extent that he wanted to fly in to see the damage, I wish he would have done it two days ago, when the water was still over the second floor of people’s houses, rather than now – when Sweetwater Creek has subsided,” Olens said.
Olens said the unusual nature of the flood merits quicker attention from Washington. “This was not a 100 or 200-year rain incident. This was an historic flood,” he said. “You have folks that have lost everything. The majority of the damage is not in flood plain areas. It’s in areas that never before witnessed the flooding. By definition, these folks have no option. They don’t have flood insurance, they’re homeowners policies are not going to cover flooding. I’d like to have some clear direction on how we move forward.”
Summed up Olens: “Cobb’s a big county. Cobb has a lot of resources. But Douglas and Paulding – they needed this help days ago.”
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