- Associated Press - Sunday, October 15, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Local and state agencies in New Mexico have received more than $296 million in disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency since 1999, fueling work on thousands of projects as communities worked to rebuild.

An analysis by The Associated Press shows that New Mexico, unlike many states, did not have any cases that resulted in appeals based on the funding the agency decided to award.

Local governments and nonprofits trying to recover from major disasters have sometimes learned the hard way that money spent on protective measures, cleanup and rebuilding is not always reimbursed by the U.S. government. In some states, FEMA has denied appeals for tens of millions of dollars in applications for disaster help.

In New Mexico, disasters over the past 20 years have included wildfires and flooding as the result of heavy runoff following severe storms.

FEMA paid the most - nearly $98 million - in 2014 after storms in late July and early August and again in September resulted in flooding that damaged roads, bridges and other infrastructure across several counties around the state and in tribal communities.

All the flooding forced Gov. Susana Martinez to declare back-to-back emergencies. In the weeks that followed, New Mexico’s congressional delegation pressured the Obama administration to take action on the state’s request for help. A major disaster declaration was issued in late October.

Eddy County was among those hit the hardest. County officials estimated at the time that hundreds of miles of roadway were affected, people had to be rescued from stranded cars and dozens of residents voluntarily left their homes because of rising water.

FEMA also paid nearly $57 million for flooding and mudslides in 2013, according to the data.

The figures do not include money FEMA paid to private individuals, only public assistance money for government and nonprofit entities to do specific recovery and disaster cleanup work.

In declaring the disasters, the governor acknowledged that record wildfires in the preceding years had left scars across the landscape. With nothing to slow the runoff, heavy rainfall over some of the areas resulted in erosion and other damage.

New Mexico also has received FEMA disaster aid for wildfire recovery, including more than $10 million in 2000 following a massive blaze that swept through Los Alamos. That funding represented only a fraction of the total disaster expenses and claims paid to individuals and businesses.

Ignited as a prescribed burn in Bandelier National Monument, the flames crossed fire lines and raced through an overgrown, tinder-dry forest with help from strong winds. Los Alamos and the nearby town of White Rock were evacuated, and work was halted at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

More than 400 families lost their homes and about 75 square miles (194 square kilometers) of the surrounding mountains were charred.

In all, nearly 500 applicants in New Mexico have been awarded FEMA aid since 1999, and more than 3,700 individual projects have been funded.

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