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USA: Recovery efforts ongoing six months after Ivan

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- In the wake of "Ivan the Terrible" visiting Florida's Panhandle area six months ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continues its efforts to revive impacted coastal cities and communities.
Hurricane Ivan, the third of four 2004 hurricanes, spawned 23 tornadoes in Florida before it landed on the Gulf Coast of Alabama Sept. 16, 2004. Florida's Panhandle counties received coastal storm flooding 10 to 16 feet above normal tide levels and 10 to 15 inches of rain drenched some areas. By the time the rains and winds subsided, 545,000 Floridians had evacuated and more than 443,000 households were without power for about two weeks. Part of Interstate I-10 and bridges were closed, having been washed away, and Floridians in the Panhandle were left to rebuild public infrastructure and private property damaged or destroyed.

FEMA migrated its Florida efforts westward, deploying more than 4,500 personnel to assist in hurricane response and recovery efforts for the state. In conjunction with the State Emergency Response Team (SERT), an Area Field Office also was established in Pensacola.

Ivan was the state's third deadly hurricane in less than five weeks; 30 fatalities are attributed to the disaster. Insurance experts estimate Ivan as the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history with $7.1 billion in damages from Alabama and Florida northward through North Carolina and New York.

A breakdown of the amounts and types of disaster assistance provided to date in Florida because of Hurricane Ivan is as follows:

More than 151,000 individuals registered for state and federal assistance;

Disaster Medical Assistance Teams treated 3,339 patients;

56 shelters were set up to hold 33,472 individuals at its peak;

More than 25 voluntary and faith-based agencies, some from as far away as Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan, have been working to help disaster-impacted Floridians;

Volunteers distributed 2.96 million meals;

97,700 tarps were distributed to individuals, and volunteers and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers covered more than 51,000 roofs with plastic sheeting;

More than 104,000 housing inspections have been completed;

FEMA created 10 emergency group sites and 10 longer-term housing sites with mobile homes and travel trailers in Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties to accommodate more than 3,700 displaced Panhandle applicants. Residents also are being housed in FEMA mobile homes placed on commercial sites as space becomes available.

11 fixed Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) and one mobile unit have been operating in the Panhandle to provide more than 120,000 individuals a face-to-face opportunity to meet with state and federal disaster-recovery specialists.

More than $370 million have been paid for emergency response and protective measures including dispersing millions of pounds of ice, millions of gallons of water and millions of ready-to-eat meals;

Nearly $157 million in federal and state disaster assistance grants have been approved for Floridians. Of that amount, $73.7 million has been approved to pay for lodging expenses, rental assistance and minimal home repairs. More than $83 million covers other needs, including such items as repair or replacement of personal property, funeral expenses, and medical and dental costs related to the storm;

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has approved more loans for Ivan than the other three Florida hurricanes in 2004 - $503 million for 34,436 applicants to repair storm-damaged homes and businesses;

More than $2.97 million have been disbursed in Disaster Unemployment Assistance;

More than $186 million in public assistance funds have been obligated for 260 requests for aid from local governments and private, nonprofit entities;

12,672 National Flood Insurance Program claims have been received, the most of all the 2004 hurricanes.

A public-private coalition known as Rebuild Northwest Florida has been formed to help coordinate need-based recovery initiatives for hurricane-impacted residents in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The group is a collaborative effort by citizens, non-profit organizations, interfaith communities, government entities and businesses to help individuals and families with long-term recovery issues that include rebuilding and fortifying homes.

FEMA also has organized a collaborative team of experts from state and federal agencies to work with local governments and citizens to create long-term recovery plans for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Two long-term recovery teams have been formed to develop the plans based on public input that identified issues, concerns, and potential rebuilding projects and funding sources. Final plans are expected to be released the end of March.

Applicants who have questions about their claim status should call FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). The hearing- or speech-impaired should call TTY 1-800-462-7585. Both numbers operate daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Applicants with disaster or program questions also can visit a DRC still operating in hard-hit areas throughout the state from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on Saturdays.

The State Emergency Response Team (SERT) is a collaboration of Florida's state agencies led by the state coordinating officer. SERT's mission is to ensure that Florida is prepared to respond to emergencies, recover from them, and mitigate their impacts. Visit www.floridadisaster.org for the latest information on the hurricane relief efforts.

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.