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USA: Federal grants to restore tornado-damaged infrastructure

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The destructive tornadoes that swept through Alabama on March 1, left behind a path of destruction - homes destroyed, trees toppled and lives disrupted. In Enterprise, residents will long remember the low-hanging clouds, the swirling winds and tangled debris that remained in the wake of the most devastating tornadoes in their recent memory.

In addition to homes and personal property destroyed, the tornadoes inflicted heavy damage on schools, public buildings and left piles of debris to be cleaned up. These damages to public property fall into a separate category of assistance called Public Assistance available to Coffee, Henry and Wilcox counties.

"There was significant damage to public buildings and massive amounts of debris that must be cleared," said Gracia Szczech, federal coordinating officer for the Alabama tornadoes. "We will work with the State of Alabama to make certain the entire community recovers from these devastating storms," she added.

The largest infrastructure losses were at Enterprise in Coffee County where the high school and a middle school were severely damaged. Other damaged facilities include ballparks, Moose Hope Gymnasium and the ambulance service building. Assessments are being completed and further surveys done to determine eligible amounts to repair or replace those facilities.

Alabama State Coordinating Officer Bruce Baughman said, "We will work closely with FEMA as well as cities and counties in the devastated area to make certain our infrastructure losses are repaired in a timely manner."

Removing debris remains a priority in the three counties that qualified for FEMA public assistance. Coffee County has awarded a contract for debris removal and work is under way. Wilcox County's debris removal bid proposal has been received, and Henry County is using its own forces for debris removal.

The three counties were found eligible for federal aid after specialists from the AEMA and the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) did a preliminary damage assessment. Now the counties, with help from federal and state experts, must put actual dollar amounts on all the losses which qualify for federal aid. This includes debris removal, emergency protective measures and losses to public utilities, buildings, and recreational and other facilities. Once the eligible losses are quantified and any amounts from insurance payments are subtracted, federal grants pay 75 percent of the rebuilding or reconstruction costs and the state pays 25 percent.

The Public Assistance Grant Program is one avenue that federal assistance gets to the state and local governments and to certain private nonprofit organizations. These grants allow public entities to respond to disasters, to recover from their impact and to mitigate impact from future disasters. While these grants are aimed at governments and organizations - their final goal is to help a community and all its citizens recover from devastating natural disasters.

FEMA manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident, initiates mitigation activities and manages the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA works closely with state and local emergency managers, law enforcement personnel, firefighters and other first responders. FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.