Feds open investigation in 2016 flood-relief efforts

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Federal authorities have announced an investigation into disaster relief for deadly flooding in West Virginia in 2016.

U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced the investigation on Wednesday.

“The deadly 2016 floods were a seminal event for West Virginia," Stuart said. "Too many of our precious citizens lost their lives. Many other lives were terribly impacted.

Twenty-three people were killed in the flooding June 2016 flooding that destroyed entire communities. More than two dozen schools were damaged, and hundreds of people lost their homes.

"Critical infrastructure including roads, bridges, and water systems were destroyed or significantly interrupted," Stuart said. "And too many West Virginians lost their most critical personal asset – their homes. Many lives were literally turned upside down. To this day, the future remains uncertain for too many of our friends and neighbors."

The federal government committed millions of taxpayer dollars to disaster relief with the intent that the money would help rebuild lives and rebuild communities.

"Critical federal resources through FEMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are essential to the rebuilding process and must be used wisely, timely and legally," Stuart said in a statement.

West Virginia National Guard General James Hoyer took over the program almost a year ago with the hope of speeding things up.

However, during a committee meeting at the West Virginia State Capitol, Hoyer told legislators they've completed 50 houses and there are 498 cases outstanding. They plan to have 300 cases under contract and make progress by the end of June.

While Hoyer talked about the positives, many questioned the program's slow movement. He said having the capacity to complete several environmental assessments is the bulk of the problem, but he hopes people can focus on the progress they've made so far and the goal they are working towards.

"Every available dollar for disaster relief must be spent on disaster relief," Stuart said. "Diversion, fraud, corruption or delay cannot and will not be tolerated. Desperate communities and West Virginians depend on critical, limited dollars to assist in recovery. Desperate communities and West Virginians need certainty that in a future disaster intended assistance will be delivered timely and spent properly.

"West Virginians need to be reassured that federal law enforcement is now investigating this matter. Rest assured, my office is working with appropriate federal agencies to investigate the issues of disaster relief, and use of federal funds related to the historic 2016 floods and I can assure our citizens that any party that abused their position of authority, violated the public trust, or misused taxpayer dollars will be held accountable, if warranted.”