The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Friday that President Bush has ordered the release of federal disaster funds and emergency resources for Florida to aid people battered by Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricane Charley. As of Friday evening, Charley was working its way up the Florida coast and heading for the Georgia coast and the Carolinas.
Michael Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response, said the President took the action under a major disaster declaration issued Friday afternoon immediately after receiving FEMA’s analysis of the state’s expedited request for federal assistance. The declaration covers damage to private property from the storms beginning on Aug 11.
“President Bush recognizes that the people of Florida have been devastated by these storms and has acted quickly to ensure that they get immediate help,” Brown said. “The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA have the resources in hand to meet critical emergency needs and to help families and businesses begin the recovery process.”
Brown said emergency assistance triggered by the declaration can range from the use of federal personnel, equipment and lifesaving systems to the delivery of heavy-duty generators, plastic sheeting, tents, cots, food, water, medical aid and other essential supplies and materials for sustaining human life.
In addition to emergency aid, Brown said the declaration makes federal funds available for the long-term recovery of storm-stricken residents and business owners in the counties of Charlotte, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota.
The assistance, to be coordinated by FEMA, can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses. Low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration also will be available to cover residential and business losses not fully compensated by insurance.
Additionally, Brown said the state and affected local governments in all 67 counties are eligible to apply for federal funds to pay 75 percent of the approved costs for debris removal and emergency services related to the storms. Federal funding also will be available to the state on a cost-shared basis for approved projects that reduce future disaster risks.
Brown indicated that aid for residents in other counties and additional forms of assistance for state and local government agencies may be designated later as conditions allow damage to be assessed throughout the stricken area. He named Michael Bolch of FEMA to coordinate the federal relief effort.
Bolch said that those in the four counties designated for aid to affected residents and business owners can begin the disaster 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 starting Saturday, Aug. 14, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week until further notice.
Because of the anticipated high volume of initial calls, Bolch urged owners of commercial properties and residents with only minor losses to wait a few days before calling so those whose homes were destroyed or heavily damaged can be served first.
He also advised that storm victims with insurance coverage should contact their insurance company or agent before calling to report losses and, if necessary, to request an advance or partial payment of their settlement.
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