Federal Government Won’t Help Individual Tornado Victims

The tornadoes damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 properties, but the threshold for an aid package barely misses the mark

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Friday it will not cut a check to any North Texans who lost their homes in the Christmas weekend tornadoes.

Hundreds of residents lost their homes entirely, while hundreds more have homes with serious or significant damage.

FEMA's decision was immediately met with a wave of outrage and shock from local and state leaders, and also from victims themselves.

"We're going to be suffering from this for years to come," said Richard Tullius, who lost his Rowlett home in the tornado.

"It's disappointing, and it's sad to see that our government spends money in so many places, but when you look at this and you see what's going on here, people here need money," he added.

FEMA has certain criteria that states have to meet for individual assistance. In the category of damaged, under-insured homes or uninsured homes, North Texas was off the mark by 8 percent.

Tornado victims like Tullius are shocked FEMA doesn't have some flexibility.

Almost nothing survived Tullius' home after the tornado. His son, daughter-in-law, and his two grandchildren survived the storm together.

Volunteers day-in and day-out help him with the cleanup, and it's an ongoing project more than a month later.

"It's sad, it's very sad. It's hard to look at this and see the loss," he said. "It's overwhelming."

Tullius knew FEMA was evaluating how much money to send to North Texas, and he assumed individual homeowners would get something, too.

On Friday, came a decision. FEMA will send money to help cities like Garland, Rowlett, Glenn Heights and others to help them offset their clean-up costs and infrastructure repairs. But individual victims will get nothing.

"Absolutely, it's disappointing that the government isn't here to help us out when we need them," Tullius said. "It's not enough that you're doing something to roads, it's people on the individual level."

The tornadoes damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 properties. The debris piles in Rowlett alone are still 15-feet high.

Still, not enough properties were uninsured or under-insured to get an individual aid package.

"The number that we were looking to hit was 801, and if I recall correctly, we hit about 740 or so," Rowlett City Manager Brian Funderburk said.

Funderburk said he's disappointed by the results.

"We knew we'd be right at the cusp of the threshold, that realistically it would be a close call," he said. "But the individual assistance helps homeowners and renters. The level of assistance can provide just enough gap money for you to get back into a home."

He said they'll do a new damage assessment in the next few weeks.

"I think our job is to try and tie down the numbers better. There were people we couldn't reach. We couldn't find during this time period who also may be uninsured or under-insured," Funderburk said. "I think we'll do everything we can to tie up those numbers better and hopefully achieve that threshold."

Richard Tullius thinks that's the right course of action.

"I think a lot of homes have more damage than they even know at this point. And, look, that number is not going to get less, it's only going to grow," he said.

Gov. Greg Abbott has 30 days to file an appeal. He's indicated he plans on doing that.

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