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NASHVILLE — Tennessee's two U.S. senators and nine congressmen on Saturday urged President Donald Trump to quickly approve Gov. Bill Lee's request for a major disaster declaration for 58 counties hit by flooding and severe weather in February and March.

"On behalf of the State of Tennessee, we are writing to support Governor Bill Lee's request to declare a major disaster pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief Act as a result of the flooding and severe storms that impacted our state beginning on February 6, 2019," the letter says.

The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn as well as Reps. Chuck Fleischmann, Scott DesJarlais, John Rose, Tim Burchett and the other five Tennessee congressmen.

The lawmakers thanked Trump for his administration's "ongoing response," specifically the Federal Highway Administration making $10 million immediately available to help repair roads damaged by flood and landslides.

"However," lawmakers wrote, "the severe storms that swept across the State of Tennessee beginning on February 6th brought severe storms and flooding that cost the state over $151 million," lawmakers noted, citing Federal Emergency Management Agency and State joint Preliminary Damage Assessments in affected counties.

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Disaster Declaration letter

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On Friday, Lee sent a letter to Trump officially asking for federal aid and various reimbursements available under a major emergency declaration.

Lee wants federal disaster recovery relief funds made available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Public Assistance program for 58 of the state's 95 counties, including Hamilton County.

The state says qualifying losses for county, municipal, state agency and utility infrastructure as well as emergency expenditures totaled $68.3 million due to the flooding and severe storms.

In his letter to the president, Lee noted "we anticipate, as flood waters recede and additional damage is received, there may be other counties that will qualify for assistance and we will likely be requesting that those counties be included at a later time."

Lee said in his Friday news release that "the severe flooding has left many Tennessee jurisdictions unsure about how to fund the unexpected need to repair infrastructure and pay for their emergency measures. I believe we have demonstrated the need for federal assistance is necessary and if granted, will lessen some of the financial burden on local resources for flood response and recovery."

Storms impacted 83 of the state's 95 counties. Besides Hamilton, other Southeast Tennessee counties impacted include Marion, Rhea and Sequatchie counties.

Flooding prompted emergency rescues of dozens of people statewide. Twenty-six water and wastewater systems experienced problems including loss of service, line breaks, and flooded facilities, making some water treatment functions "inoperable."

In Lee's letter to Trump, he noted the Tennessee Department of Transportation reported 58 rock slides or falls while while flooding struck 75 locations on state highways alone.

High rivers prompted some locks at dams to be closed. The state says there were 99 "impacts" including large sinkholes and barges striking bridges.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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