The federal government has denied assistance to owners of hundreds of private homes damaged in a fierce January storm, many of whom lacked flood insurance.
The damage failed to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s criteria for disaster dollars.
“It’s a very difficult time for a lot of people affected by the floods,” said Oregon Emergency Management spokeswoman Jennifer Chamberlain.
Disaster assistance can prove to be a cruel calculus – without sufficient damage, homeowners can’t expect to see assistance dollars.
“I hate to say it, but if we’d had more homes destroyed, we might have gotten this assistance,” Chamberlain said.
The flooding was blamed for two deaths when a car was swept out of a grocery store parking lot in Albany.
FEMA made aid available to a dozen counties: Benton, Columbia, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Hood River, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, and Tillamook.
The majority of the damage took place in Marion County, especially in the city of Turner. Mayor Paul Thomas said homeowners could have used the assistance, but the city was prepared for the denial.
“I think we knew there wasn’t much chance the appeal would change things,” Thomas said. “We’re disappointed, but we’ll just keep on trucking.”
The state will seek disaster-recovery dollars from another source, though Chamberlain said she’s unsure where the dollars will come from. Among the possibilities are the Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
FEMA is already covering 75 percent of the cost of repairs and of emergency expenses for roads, bridges and other infrastructure damaged by the mid-January storm. The agency did not specify in a letter to Gov. John Kitzhaber why it was denying the assistance after an appeal he made last week.
Its decision is based on a formula that includes the population in Oregon and the affected counties, the percent of people insured versus the uninsured and the level of damage.
It also includes the economic impact to the state, “which we thought was going to put us over the top,” Chamberlain said.
Thomas said the city has managed to raise money to help homeowners whose homes were damaged.
“I think we’ve helped people who were the worst hit quite a bit,” Thomas said. “We’ve been through this before. It’s just what you do when part of your town is in a flood zone.”
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