Federal response to twisters kicks in

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials received requests Monday to declare large parts of Missouri and Kansas disaster areas, which would clear the way for government aid to people and places hurt by the deadly Midwestern tornadoes.

In Kansas City, Mo., the regional Federal Emergency Management Agency office set up a command center Sunday evening to track damage reports from both states. The states were squarely in the path of deadly tornadoes and thunderstorms that swept Sunday through the nation's midsection.

Missouri Gov. Bob Holden asked the White House to declare a federal disaster in 39 counties, and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius made a similar request for seven Kansas counties. At the state level, the governors declared disasters or emergencies in several counties.

The director of Missouri's State Emergency Management Agency, Jerry Uhlmann, predicted President Bush would act within two to three days.

"I think we'll get a relatively quick response from the federal government," Uhlmann said during a news conference Monday at the state Capitol.

FEMA director Michael D. Brown planned to visit both states Tuesday, starting in the morning with Kansas' Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties, then making a midday visit to hard-hit Pierce City, Mo., said Crystal Payton, spokeswoman for the regional FEMA office in Kansas City, Mo.

President Bush promised quick action during a trip Monday to Little Rock, Ark.

"The state and local authorities need to know the federal government will be moving as quickly as we possibly can to provide help where help is needed and where help is justified," he said.

Bush added: "Nature's awfully tough at times, and the best thing we can do right now is to pray for those who have suffered."

Presidential approval activates programs that help with response and recovery efforts. Among them are housing and other aid to families and individuals and aid for repair of public roads, bridges, utilities and other facilities.

Senators asked for aid

Also available will be Small Business Administration disaster loans for qualified homeowners and businesses.

Missouri's U.S. senators wrote President Bush urging swift action on requests for disaster aid.

"Not only have lives been lost and homes and businesses destroyed, but the counties and cities will have enormous debris with which to contend," GOP Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent wrote in a letter faxed Monday morning to the White House. "The amount of damage and deaths continues to climb."

Kansas Republican Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback wrote the White House Monday afternoon to make a similar request for action. "Mr. President, one of America's strongest traits is responding to disasters," the Kansans wrote.

Until a declaration comes, those with immediate needs should contact the Red Cross or Salvation Army, Payton said.

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