USA

USA: President orders disaster aid for Florida hurricane victims

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Release Number: HQ-05-143

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced today that President Bush has ordered the release of federal disaster funds and emergency resources for Florida to aid people ravaged by Hurricane Dennis.

Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response, said the President took the action under a major disaster declaration issued for the state in response to the hurricane that landfall this afternoon.

"President Bush moved quickly in coming to the aid of the people of Florida because he is aware of the magnitude of damage this storm is causing," Brown said. "The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA will work with our state and local partners to ensure that they receive the necessary assistance to meet immediate critical needs and to help get them on the road to recovery as fast and efficiently as possible."

Brown said emergency assistance triggered by the declaration can range from the use of federal personnel, equipment and lifesaving systems to the delivery of heavy-duty generators, plastic sheeting, tents, cots, food, water, medical aid and other essential supplies and materials for sustaining human life.

In addition to emergency aid, Brown said the declaration makes federal funds available for the long-term recovery of storm-stricken residents and business owners in the hard-hit counties of Escambia and Santa Rosa.

The assistance, to be coordinated by FEMA, can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses. Low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration also will be available to cover residential and business losses not fully compensated by insurance.

Additionally, Brown said the state and affected local governments and certain private non-profit organizations in 13 counties are eligible to apply for federal funds to pay 75 percent of the approved costs for debris removal and emergency protective services related to the hurricane, including requested emergency work undertaken by the federal government. For a period of up to 72 hours, Brown said emergency protective services and requested federal emergency work, excluding debris removal, would be paid at 100 percent federal funding.

The 13 counties designated for the assistance include Bay, Calhoun, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Monroe, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla, Walton and Washington

Brown said federal funding also will be available to the state on a cost-shared basis for approved projects that reduce future disaster risks. He indicated that aid for residents in other counties and additional forms of assistance for state and local government agencies may be designated later as conditions allow damage to be assessed in the stricken area.

Justin DeMello of FEMA was named by Brown to coordinate federal recovery operations. DeMello said that affected residents and business owners in the designated counties of Escambia and Santa Rosa can begin the disaster application process by registering online at http://www.fema.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will be available starting tomorrow 24-hours a day, seven days a week until further notice.

Because of the anticipated high volume of initial calls, owners of commercial properties and residents with only minor losses are urged to wait a few days before calling so those whose homes were destroyed or heavily damaged can be served first. Storm victims with insurance coverage should contact their insurance company or agent before calling to report losses and, if necessary, to request an advance or partial payment of their settlement.

FEMA prepares the nation for all hazards and manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, trains first responders, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration. FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.