Federal emergency officials approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s requests to pay for winter storm damages and to support California’s unfolding response to the emergency at the distressed Oroville Dam, the White House announced Tuesday
“I want to thank FEMA for moving quickly to approve our requests,” Brown said, a day after expressing optimism that the Trump administration would come to his state’s assistance. “This federal aid will get money and resources where it’s needed most.”
Brown had indicated there were increasingly positive signs that the Republican president might agree to financial assistance for the storm-ravaged state even with the lingering animosity between the president and a state he called “out of control.” The White House said in a statement that the president’s action authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said earlier Tuesday that Trump was keeping a “close eye” on the crisis at California’s Oroville dam. Nearly 200,000 people were initially evacuated out of fear of a catastrophic flood following damage to the emergency spillway at the dam. They have been allowed to return.
“We hope everyone remains safe as the evacuations continue and we will be working alongside with FEMA and appropriate government entities to make sure that we are doing everything we can to attend to this matter,” Spicer told reporters at the White House.
There had been intense speculation in California over what Trump might do. A website created a month ago, called the Sacramento Dispatch, helped increase concern with a fake news story claiming that Trump had denied the federal assistance for California.
California has been in deep conflict with Trump since the election over immigration, health care and other issues.
The president this month threatened to deny federal funds to California over the state’s proposal to restrict state and local law enforcement from using resources to assist federal authorities with immigration enforcement.
Still, Brown, appearing at his Office of Emergency Services on Monday, said he remained encouraged the state and federal government can work together on the Oroville Dam crisis. Brown said he had spoken personally with a recently confirmed member of Trump’s Cabinet, who he would not name, about the possibility of receiving federal assistance.
“There will be different points of view,” he said. “But we’re all one America, and we all have challenges that we share in common. And as we defend America, we defend California, and vice versa.”
On Friday, Brown had asked Trump to declare a major disaster in the state to make it eligible for federal assistance to help with damage from powerful storms last month. The governor estimated that public assistance expenses will be more than $162 million.
He followed up Monday with a letter to the White House requesting direct federal assistance with the ongoing Oroville Dam crisis and the evacuees. FEMA, which makes recommendations to the president on disaster declarations, is reviewing the requests.
California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both Democrats, wrote Trump a letter Tuesday urging him to agree.
“This federal assistance is needed because of the potential failure of Lake Oroville dam emergency spillway, and the resulting catastrophic damage it would likely cause,” the senators wrote. “If the emergency spillway were to fail, it would send a wall of water downstream, causing serious damage and catastrophic losses.”
Crews worked through the night to shore up the emergency spillway at Lake Oroville, racing to fortify the structure before a change to rainy weather predicted for late Wednesday.