- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley has asked President Barack Obama to declare almost half of South Carolina a federal disaster after last month’s winter storm that caused at least $430 million in damage and left hundreds of thousands in the dark.

On Wednesday, State Forester Harry Kodama said the storm caused $360 million in damage to the state’s forestlands, an amount equaling the state’s total timber harvest in a year and the worst blow to the forests since Hurricane Hugo caused an estimated $1 billion damage a quarter century ago.

In a letter dated Tuesday, Haley wrote the president that damage and storm response costs incurred by governments and electric cooperatives exceed $54 million. She asked that 21 of the state’s 46 counties be made eligible for federal disaster assistance to deal with the damages and the cost of responding to the storm.

The Feb. 11-13 storm left up to an inch of ice that snapped trees and branches across a wide swath of the state and dumped up to 8 inches of snow in the Upstate. At one point, power was cut to 350,000 electric customers statewide.

The counties the governor asks be declared a disaster area are in an arc from Aiken, Barnwell and Allendale counties on the Savannah River, northeast to the state’s north coast. Those counties suffered the worst damage from ice. If declared, it would be the first federal disaster in the state in almost a decade. The last was for a 2005 ice storm in the Upstate.

Last month’s storm resulted in an estimated $15 million in private insurance claims, according to the South Carolina Insurance News Service, a nonprofit funded by insurance companies that do business in the state.

State Sen. Paul Campbell of Berkeley County, where the forests were hard hit by the storm, said while the Forestry Commission’s $360 million figure represents immediate damage, there will be more to come.

Some trees, although still standing, may have been weakened and will die of disease or insect infestation during the coming months. The forests also will be more subject to forest fires this fire season with all the branches and limbs felled by the storm littering the ground, he said.

“It has just been devastating what we have seen in the forests,” he said during a news conference at the Statehouse.

In some rural areas of the state, electric customers were without power more than a week after layers of ice snapped tree branches that brought down power lines and utility poles.

Haley told the president that half the damages to public facilities in the state, $27 million, were suffered by cooperatives and municipal power companies.

“Insurance coverage for the damages to electrical infrastructure is insignificant in relation to the extraordinary losses sustained by municipal utilities and electrical cooperatives,” the governor wrote.

She added the state has already spent $2 million responding to the storm and wrote the state and local governments are still removing debris from roads and streets in a process that could take another two months in some areas.

In addition, Haley said there were 261,000 food stamp recipients in 19 of the hardest-hit counties, many of whom lost food that spoiled because the power went out.