Federal disaster assistance getting to victims

Sunday, June 2, 2002

Residents of disaster-torn Marble Hill are among Missouri cities hit by tornadoes and flooding that are beginning to get financial assistance to help them restart their lives.

As of Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported 123 requests for assistance from Bollinger County resulting in $120,000 given for emergency housing and $22,000 in individual family grants to pay for debris removal and other cleanup costs.

"I believe that for the most part, the recovery is going well," said FEMA spokesman Charlie Henderson, who is stationed at an office in Poplar Bluff. "We're trying to get directly involved and find out who needs help and help them get it."

In Cape Girardeau County, where flooding caused damage, 44 requests for assistance have led to almost $40,000 in disaster housing. Individual family grants were low and went to fewer than 10 families. Henderson said that made the dollar figure non-public information because of privacy issues.

"It's such a low number, though," he said. "You probably carry it around in your wallet."

In Perry County, there were only two requests for assistance.

On May 6, President George Bush declared parts of Missouri a major disaster area, triggering the release of federal funds to help communities recover from severe storms, tornadoes and flooding that began April 24.

Marble Hill saw some of the worst of it, when a tornado ripped through a four-mile stretch of Bollinger County just south of town. The tornado destroyed about 20 homes, damaged others and took the life of 12-year-old Billy Hoover, who was killed while at a sleepover with friends.

Then, two weeks later, the town saw heavy rains that caused damaging flooding in some parts of town.

But cleanup has been nonstop and now it looks like the worst may finally be over.

"A lot of people are beginning to feel like they are getting back on their feet," said Jim Bollinger, the Bollinger County's director of emergency management. "We're starting to get back into shape."

Bollinger said that FEMA has been more than accommodating with residents.

"I've been very pleased with the reception we're getting from them," he said. "They're really trying to do what they can to help people. They're really going out of theirs way to find a way to be helpful."

Originally, FEMA had only offered public assistance to help repair roads, bridges and governmental buildings, but when legislators applied pressure, FEMA reversed course and offered help to individuals.

"They got it right and they've bent over backward to do what they can since," Bollinger said.

In all of the counties under the designation -- Bollinger, Butler, Cape Girardeau, Carter, Crawford, Dent, Douglas, Dunklin, Howell, Iron, Jefferson, Madison, Oregon, Ozark, Perry, Reynolds, Ripley, Shannon, St. Francois, St. Genevieve, Stoddard, Texas and Wayne -- almost $2.25 million has been distributed to 940 people.

Housing distributions have reached $650,280 and individual family grants have totaled more than $539,000. There have been more than 400 visits to outreach offices, he said.

It wasn't just residential areas that have been hit hard. Henderson said that more than $20 million has been given in public assistance money for cleaning up bridges and roads, and to repair damaged public buildings.

"We're picking up 100 applications a day," Henderson said. "The word is getting out."

The deadline for assistance applications, subject to change, is July 8.

Those seeking assistance should call 1-800-621-FEMA.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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