Residents of more than half of Kansas' counties personally experienced the power of dangerous weather that injured dozens, flattened homes, flooded fields and damaged livelihoods.
Rep. Blaine Finch, an Ottawa Republican, was among those who watched with a mixture of horror and awe as an EF-4 tornado crashed Tuesday through Osage and Douglas counties before slashing into Wyandotte and Johnson counties and spinning into Missouri.
"But that was one small part of what's now going on — 18 straight days of storms and severe weather across our state," he said. "Farm fields have been inundated. Small towns have seen their water supplies cut off. People have lost their homes and their livelihoods to nature."
In response, the House and Senate voted unanimously Wednesday for a resolution bolstering the state government's authority to respond to disaster conditions infecting nearly 60 counties. While Gov. Laura Kelly can initiate a disaster declaration for 15 days and the State Finance Council can extend at 30-day increments, one of the final acts of the 2019 Legislature was to approve expansion of the designation until Jan. 13, 2020.
The intent was to affirm the state's commitment of up to $10 million in annual disaster aid and to support Kelly's request for federal disaster designations that so far cover 18 counties. That formal listing opens up to Kansas $75 million in federal assistance and $15 million in local aid.
"This obviously is going to take a long time to clean this up," said House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat. "I think this is important."
The vote in the House was 116-0, with the Senate voting 38-0.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., supported Kelly's disaster quest by urging President Donald Trump to endorse Kansas' plea for federal disaster resources, including emergency rescue and shelter management support.
"State and local resources are strained. Additional federal assistance is needed to aid the recovery and help prevent further damage caused by the flooding," Moran said.
Federal assistance authorized by the Trump administration covered the counties of Anderson, Butler, Chautauqua, Cherokee, Coffey, Cowley, Crawford, Elk, Franklin, Greenwood, Harvey, Montgomery, Neosho, Osage, Reno, Sumner, Wilson and Woodson.
Additional designations could be made if requested by the state and warranted by the results of ongoing damage evaluations.
"Due to extreme weather and flooding, Kansas is facing significant weather-related challenges," said Kelly, a Democrat. "I’m pleased the president granted these counties emergency support."
The 46 other counties identified by Kelly as damaged in the storms were Allen, Anderson, Barber, Barton, Butler, Chase, Chautauqua, Cherokee, Clark, Clay, Cloud, Coffey, Comanche, Cowley, Crawford, Dickinson, Doniphan, Elk, Franklin, Geary, Greenwood, Harvey, Jefferson, Kingman, Lincoln, Lyon, Marion, McPherson, Meade, Montgomery, Morris, Neosho, Osage, Ottawa, Pawnee, Pottawatomie, Pratt, Reno, Rice, Riley, Rush, Saline, Sumner, Wabaunsee, Wilson and Woodson.