President declares Tennessee a major disaster

From Staff Reports

   The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced that President Bush declared a major disaster for 32 Tennessee counties. The declaration opens the way for the use of federal disaster funds to help meet the recovery needs of people and communities plagued by recent storms and floods.
   FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh stated the President took action following a review of the agency's analysis of the state's request for federal assistance. The declaration covers damage to private and public property from severe storms and flooding that occurred between Jan. 23-28 and March 15-20.
   After the declaration, Allbaugh designated Bledsoe, Blount, Claiborne, Cocke, Hancock, Hawkins, Loudon and Sevier Counties as eligible for aid. The assistance will be coordinated by FEMA and can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, emergency home repairs and other serious disaster relief expenses.
   Gov. Don Sundquist expressed his appreciation for the President's attention to Tennessee. "I want to thank President Bush along with FEMA for taking swift action to help the areas of Tennessee affected by recent flooding," Gov. Sundquist said. "The federal funds made available through the President's declaration are vital to restoring these communities.
   Assistance for the affected areas under the President's declaration include unemployment payments up to 26 weeks for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and who do not qualify for state benefits, such as self employed individuals. 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.
   Loans up to $1.5 million are available for small businesses that have suffered disaster related cash flow problems and need funds for working capital to recover from the adverse economic impact. Loans up to $500,000 will be available for farmers, ranchers and aquaculture operators.
   Federal funds will also be provided for the state and affected local governments in order for them to pay 75 percent of the eligible cost for debris removal, emergency services related to the disaster and repairing or replacing damaged public facilities, such as roads, bridges and utilities.
   Allbaugh stated the declaration makes federal funds available to the state on a cost shared basis for approved projects that reduce future disaster risks. He indicated that additional counties may be designated for aid later if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.
   Charles M. Butler of FEMA was named by Allbaugh to coordinate the federal assistance. Butler stated those who sustained losses in the counties designated for aid to affected residents and business owners can begin the disaster relief application process by calling 800-621-FEMA.