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Washington officials want Biden to declare January storms a federal disaster

Vonnai Phair, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

Washington officials are looking to the White House for federal assistance after severe winter storms ravaged the state in January.

Federal and state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Monday, asking him to issue a disaster declaration for much of the state. The letter is in support of Gov. Jay Inslee, who made the initial request to Biden on March 22.

The declaration would allow 16 counties, including King, to access federal funding to compensate for the damage the storms caused. The funding could pay for temporary housing, home repairs and loans for the loss of uninsured property.

"The damage caused by these successive storms has been extensive and overwhelming, leaving vital public infrastructure in both urban and rural communities throughout our state in need of significant repairs," wrote the lawmakers, including U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

The January storms battered the state with coastal and river flooding, rare blizzard warnings, strong winds, record-cold temperatures and atmospheric rivers.

Over a 25-day period ending on Jan. 29, the storms damaged countless buildings and left 100,000 households without power for several days, Inslee wrote in the March 22 letter. The state in mid-March declared a state of emergency for the 16 counties, saying the storms caused more than $30 million in damage.

The lawmakers wrote that some counties, including King, sustained widespread damage to public facilities like schools and wastewater treatment centers.


Five people died amid strong wind gusts and the extreme cold in King County between Jan. 11 and Jan. 16. In King County, frozen water lines burst and caused nearly $20 million in damages to Swedish Health Services facilities, according to Inslee's letter.

Wind-driven waves and coastal debris damaged over 6,500 feet of the Olympic Discovery Trail in Clallam County, one of the most visited waterfront trail systems in the country, Inslee wrote.

Federal assistance would relieve the strained capacity and resources of local communities and state agencies, Washington officials said.

Since 2018, the state has grappled with 11 major disaster declarations. The state also had to spend hundreds of millions to respond and recover from events such as wildfires, landslides and drought that were not declared as major disasters, Inslee wrote.

The federal declaration for the storm, if issued by Biden, would assist 16 counties, plus the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation: Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Ferry, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, King, Klickitat, Lewis, Mason, Okanogan, Pacific, Skagit, Skamania and Wahkiakum.

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