Memphis will easily qualify for federal aid

Friday, July 25, 2003

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Traffic lights were out all over town. Fallen trees littered city streets. And the death toll from this week's powerful storm that raked through Memphis continued to rise.

The storm, which hit early Tuesday, was blamed on a fourth death Wednesday. Residents were still picking up from damage caused by 100-mph winds and utility crews from surrounding counties arrived to help restore power.

Gov. Phil Bredesen toured Memphis and Shelby County in a National Guard helicopter on Thursday. He said he expects to file for federal disaster assistance by Saturday.

"From what I've seen, we should have no trouble getting it," he said. "It's not one narrow area that's been scoured. It's just these pockets of damage all over the place, over an enormously broad area."

Memphis and Shelby County expect to spend at least $40 million to restore utilities, remove storm debris and provide extra police and fire protection. If the county is designated a disaster area, local government could be reimbursed for up to 75 percent of those costs.

A man died when a tree fell on his house during the height of the storm, and a couple died in a fire late Tuesday night that authorities believe was caused by candles used to light their residence.

A 2-year-old boy died Wednesday of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning after three adults and seven youngsters were overcome by fumes from a gas-operated generator at a Memphis residence, authorities said.

Authorities were assessing damage to homes and businesses, and initial estimates were about $6 million in losses. Clint Buchanan, director of the county's emergency management agency, said several hundred homes and buildings were damaged.

The Beale Street entertainment district remained closed for a second day, threatened by a 500-foot-tall construction crane left leaning to one side by the storm. The huge crane is being used to build a new arena for the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.

With the electricity out, many stores and businesses were closed throughout town. The storm also left at least 32,000 homes and businesses without phone service.

Abdel Darras worked the counter at a Food Rite convenience store, where dozens of cars lined up for gas on Union Avenue, one of the city's most heavily traveled streets. Most gas stations in the downtown and midtown areas were closed.

Darras said customers were lined up for gas from 9 p.m. Tuesday, when his electricity came back on, until closing time at 3 a.m. The lines formed again shortly after the store reopened at 6 a.m.

"So far, so good. Everybody is being patient," Darras said.

In western Pennsylvania, rescuers searched the Allegheny River Wednesday for a 6-year-old boy who fell into fast-moving waters overnight northeast of Pittsburgh.

In Ohio, workers on Wednesday finished a makeshift road to reach 100 residents who'd been stranded at an apartment complex in Akron after flooding washed out three bridges. Three drowned in the state on Monday and Tuesday.

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