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Feds issue disaster declaration

Monday’s federal disaster declaration by agriculture officials puts Lawrence County ahead in the drought game, but local officials still expect state action.

Tuesday, August 03, 1999

Monday’s federal disaster declaration by agriculture officials puts Lawrence County ahead in the drought game, but local officials still expect state action.

"This will help," county commissioner Paul Herrell said. "It’s more than loans – it means we’ll be able to develop springs for cattle and be able to buy hay and feed to get them through winter."

With a yearlong drought showing no signs of letting up, federal officials on Monday declared as disaster areas all of West Virginia and parts of four neighboring states, including Lawrence and eight other southern Ohio counties.

In Columbus, Gov. Bob Taft said he is still waiting for a damage assessment, but has received reports that some farmers in southern Ohio have lost 40 percent of their soybean crop and 60 percent of their corn crop.

"The federal declaration puts us a little ahead but I hope the non-agriculture emergency comes quickly," Herrell said. "We need some relief."

Many county residents without public water service have watched this summer as wells dried up, leaving them without drinking water.

County emergency crews have been hauling water, but the situation is not easy to control, Herrell said.

"We’d like to see the guards in here and deliver some of this water," he said.

A state-declared disaster also means extra relief for any county resident, farmer or not, he added.

"We talked with (U.S. Sen.) Mike DeWine’s office Monday and he is still pursuing it," Herrell said. "And the state’s called and wants more information and we’ve got that to them. I hope it happens."

The damage was apparent as Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman stood at the edge of a stunted cornfield producing sickly, 3-inch ears.

”Drought is like an insidious cancer,” he said. ”It’s slow, it infects and it’s harder to deal with as a disaster.”

The federal declaration, which could be expanded this week, makes low-interest loans available to drought-stricken farmers in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The Ohio counties included are Athens, Belmont, Columbiana, Gallia, Jefferson, Lawrence, Meigs, Monroe and Washington.

President Clinton said he would work with Congress to provide $10 billion in drought relief, and he said efforts are being made to help farmers get water and hay for their livestock.

While the heat wave blamed for more than 200 deaths in 20 states let up in many places Monday, officials said there’s no substantial rainfall in sight in the places that need it most.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.