FEMA assesses damage in county

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 27, 2003

Occasional snowfall did not stop representatives from both the Federal and Ohio Emergency Management Agencies from touring Lawrence County Tuesday and Wednesday to assess the devastation inflicted by Mother Nature.

The extensive damage across the county caused by the rain and snow over the past 10 days includes continued electricity outages, downed trees and power lines across roads, road slips, flooding and more.

Don Mootz, director of the Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency/911, said he and the FEMA representatives visited every township in the county, and the northwestern townships of Decatur and Washington were probably hit the hardest.

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"The damage was about what I expected. I live right out in the middle of it," he said. "It is something that I have never experienced before, but the outcome was about what we expected -- it is bad."

Mootz said the FEMA officials will assess the damage and should have a preliminary estimate of the damage by today. This information will be sent to Gov. Bob Taft, who will send it on to Washington D.C., in hopes that President George W. Bush will declare the county a federal emergency area.

If the county is recognized as an emergency area, another team will be sent to do a more thorough survey and estimation of damages, Mootz said.

U.S. Rep Ted Strickland (D-Lucasville) has written a letter to President Bush emphasizing the need for aid.

"At this very moment, there are men and women in southern Ohio that have been without electricity for more than a week," Strickland said in his letter to the president. "Needless to say, this is a dire situation, especially for those residents who are older or suffer from illness or disability."

If the president would make a disaster declaration,

federal aid would be available for those who qualify for assistance. A

toll-free number will be set up for applications.

While the officials were in the county, they met with the Lawrence County Commissioners Tuesday to hear reports of how badly this area was hit by the weather.

The Ohio Department of Transportation announced that State Route 650 was reopened Wednesday after being closed for two days because of the flooding.

The American Red Cross Western West Virginia Chapter delivered nearly 100 hot meals and 160 snacks to county residents Wednesday.

"In a typical disaster, we have one main area affected. This time, however, it has been sporadic. Lawrence County was hit especially hard with the power outage," Tom Robinette, executive director of the local Red Cross chapter, said. "We want Lawrence County to know we are here to help, and we encourage folks who cannot cook food to meet our emergency response teams."

For more information about the program, call 1-866-438-4636.

Workers from both American Electric Power and Buckeye Rural Electric are still out stringing power lines and putting up poles, Mootz said.

"They are making some progress now," he said. "It looks like it will not be as long as we had thought, for some people."

Russ Elliott, member service director for Buckeye Rural Electric, said the company still had about 800 customers without electricity as of Wednesday afternoon, but the company has made great progress since 12,000 customers were still in the dark Monday. An estimated 200 to 300 customers in Lawrence County are still without power.

"We are trying to restore power as quickly as possible," he said. "Floods have made it harder to get to some areas, some roads are still closed and trees have fallen."

Elliott said the rumor that the company had a shortage of poles was false, and that more than 225 workers have been in the three hardest hit areas they service -- Lawrence, Scioto and Gallia counties.

American Electric Power reported that 98 percent of its customers have regained service, although about 1,500 people scattered throughout Portsmouth, Pomeroy and the Pt. Pleasant, W.Va., areas are still without power.