BOSTON – Gov. Charlie Baker formally asked the federal government on Friday to declare a disaster in 10 Massachusetts counties after a relentless series of winter storms brought record snowfall and frigid temperatures, causing 25 deaths and costing the state and its cities and towns an estimated $400 million.
The request was made in a 22-page letter to President Barack Obama, delivered through the acting regional administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Citing an “unprecedented and disastrous pattern of severe winter weather,” the letter seeks 75 per cent federal reimbursement for snow removal and other costs related to the storms, which Baker is asking FEMA and the president to treat as a single, monthlong disaster.
“Despite our experience in dealing with harsh winter conditions, this severe pattern brought (Massachusetts) to a virtual standstill for days at a time,” Baker wrote.
“Our public transit system collapsed, and private sector commerce, government services and healthcare suffered severe disruptions,” he added.
While his administration took a number of steps to respond, the impacts went beyond the state’s capabilities and prompted appeals for snow removal equipment and personnel from states as far as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Baker said.
As of March 15, Boston had received 108.6 inches of snow — about 9 feet — topping a seasonal record of 107.9 inches that was set in 1995-96. Nearly 65 inches fell in February alone, shattering the previous one-month record of 43.3 inches in January 2005.
Boston is part of Suffolk County. The state is also asking Obama to issue a major disaster declaration for Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Essex, Middlesex, Nantucket, Norfolk, Plymouth and Worcester counties. The only portion of the state not included were the four western-most counties of Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire Counties, which were less severely affected by the storms.
The 25 deaths reported by the state included pedestrians struck by snow plows, fatal falls involving people attempting to clear snow from roofs and heart attacks from shovelling snow. Additionally, hospitals reported treating more than 1,500 people for weather-related injuries.
The state’s congressional delegation, in a separate letter Friday, asked Obama to approve disaster aid.
“Federal assistance is critically needed to help (Massachusetts) repair public facilities and infrastructure damaged or destroyed by the storm, as well as to recoup the costs of snow removal and road treatment,” stated the letter, signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, and the nine-member House delegation.
Baker defended what he described as the state’s unique request of the federal government to consider an entire 28-day period from the first blizzard at the end of January through the last heavy snowfall near the end of February as a single snow event.
Baker said during that time, the snow kept coming, there were virtually no sunny days and little if any snow melted.
“It pretty much snowed all the time during that period,” he told reporters. “We are viewing it as an unprecedented event.”
The state’s commuter rail system, which suffered massive breakdowns during the storms, was anticipating a return to full service on Monday for the first time in two months.