Allen County, Ky. Judge-Executive Bobby Young has a simple description of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“FEMA is a joke,” Young said.
That sentiment – and variations on it – can be heard commonly among southern Kentucky residents seeking to rebuild after a tornado blew through in February, killing five people, injuring 13 others and causing significant property damage.
Multiple property owners say they have received rejection letters from FEMA telling them they don’t qualify for help. Anyone with any level of insurance, even if it was not nearly enough to cover actual losses, was unable to receive any help, Young said.
Instead, Allen County residents talk about the generosity of neighbors, while criticizing the federal agency’s response to the deadly storm.
Volunteers from all over the state came to Allen County to help clean debris in the storm’s aftermath, Young said, but FEMA was not willing even to offer any reimbursement for the county’s expense to dump the debris.
“There were people from FEMA here for two weeks using computers, talking to people,” Young said. “I guarantee they spent more than anyone in this area will receive. I can understand the disappointment of people in New Orleans and other places that have had natural disasters.”
FEMA, which has been increasingly under fire since Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans in August 2005, is only designed to be a helping hand for people who have no other means of assistance, said Mary Hudak, external affairs officer for FEMA in Atlanta.
The SBA provides far more funding to victims of disasters than FEMA, Hudak said.
“FEMA will not make you whole (after a disaster). FEMA is meant to be a helping hand in recovery” she said.
FEMA provides two kinds of services. One is immediate help to make a home inhabitable, she said, like paying for the purchase of plywood to cover a hole in a roof or a broken window. It can also pay rental assistance for 30 to 60 days, depending on the circumstances, Hudak said.
Hudak said figures on how much FEMA spent in Allen County or provided to residents was not immediately available.
William Payne, whose house was destroyed by the tornado, said he was rejected for aid because there were too many people living in his home, and because he had $30,000 in insurance coverage.
Payne, who lived in his former home with his son and daughter, is having a contractor dig a hole for a basement next week and is beginning plans on building a new home, he said.
“We’re going to have to borrow some money, but I’m just not sure from where,” Payne said.
While FEMA has failed, neighbors have stepped up, said Burl Wilson, whose mother, Virginia Wilson, saw her home destroyed in the storm.
Teenagers from one church donated the $500 the church gives them for an annual ski trip to help Virginia Wilson plant shrubs around her home, said Phyllis Wilson, the daughter-in-law of Virginia Wilson.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is attempting to help people in the area who lost a lot of fencing, said Robert Montgomery, Allen County executive director of the Kentucky Farm Service Agency.
“I’d much rather have good neighbors than any federal program,” Burl Wilson said.
Information from: Daily News, http://www.bgdailynews.com
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