Feds offer relief in wake of ice storm

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 17, 2003

Relief is on the way from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after President George W. Bush made a major disaster declaration Friday to help 15 Ohio counties recover from last month's snow and ice storms.

More than 300 houses and businesses were damaged or destroyed in southern Ohio alone, and government expenses have totaled nearly $17 million, according to The Associated Press.

The disaster declaration covers Adams, Jackson, Lawrence, Pike, Scioto, Gallia, Meigs, Vinton, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Guernsey, Madison, Monroe and Muskingum counties.

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"The president's declaration makes available several different programs to help repair homes, provide temporary housing, replace property and reimburse costs," said Ron Sherman, FEMA's federal coordinating officer for Ohio's relief effort.

"The programs work together to provide relief to as many people as possible."

Sherman said no set limit exists on how much funding is available and that this region truly needs all the aid it can get.

"I saw the digital photos taken by our field representatives, and it was amazing," he said. "In terms of downed trees and power lines, I have never seen that kind of ice buildup."

Anyone seeking assistance can begin the application process by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will be available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week until further notice, Sherman said.

After calling the hotline, a 20 minute interview will be conducted by a FEMA service representative and an an appointment will be set up for an inspector to visit the house or business. The inspectors will arrive in Lawrence County Monday and will begin working immediately, Sherman said.

"In many cases people may not want to apply because they feel that someone else may be more worthy," he said. "They really should not prejudge themselves because they will not be taking money from anyone else."

The five counties of Adams, Jackson, Lawrence, Pike and Scioto are eligible for assistance to residents and business owners.

For the state and affected local governments, federal funds will reimburse 75 percent of the costs for restoring damaged public facilities in the counties of Adams, Gallia, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Pike, Scioto and Vinton.

FEMA will reimburse the state and local government agencies for 75 percent of the total costs of equipment, contracts and personnel overtime related to emergency services. Related emergency protective measures such as sanding and salting, search and rescue, shelter operations and police and fire department response also will be eligible for reimbursement.

Low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration are also available to cover residential and business losses not fully compensated by insurance, Sherman said.

"We actually got what we applied for," said Lawrence County EMA/911 Director Don Mootz. "It is important for people to call that number and hopefully we can get some of these damages and losses taken care."

Although the process began a little slow, the pace will pick up and the agency will have a more accurate representation of how many people will be applying for assistance within a week, he said.