$20 million in aid disbursed after Tennessee storms

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Nearly $21 million in state and federal aid has been disbursed to Tennessee residents and businesses in the first month since May's onslaught of storms, tornadoes and flooding. None of the aid went to counties in Upper East Tennessee.
   According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, another $54 million has been requested to help local governments and agencies.
   FEMA released a brief snapshot Friday of disaster assistance across the state. According to FEMA:
   * More than 10,000 applicants have registered for state and FEMA aid through FEMA's toll-free number (1-800-621-3362).
   * Nearly 6,400 residents have reported housing damage. Of those, FEMA has completed 6,100 inspections.
   * More than two-thirds of the state (68 out of 95 counties) is now eligible for disaster assistance.
   * To date, 3,107 residents have visited state-FEMA disaster recovery centers. A fixed-site center is operating in Jackson, while two mobile centers are available in Chattanooga and Jackson.
   * $20.9 million in disaster aid has been disbursed to eligible residents and businesses in grants and loans. Of that total, $6.2 million is for disaster housing assistance grants; $9.4 million for individual and household grants to help meet needs not covered by insurance or other programs; $5.3 million for U.S. Small Business Administration loans to homeowners, renters and businesses.
   * Additional funding has been approved to help the state provide disaster unemployment assistance and crisis counseling for individuals and families in the aftermath of the disaster.
   * Public assistance reimbursement for local governments and agencies is estimated to exceed $54 million. To date, 165 local governments and agencies have been briefed on available programs and have requested $17 million for debris removal, more than $4 million for emergency protective measures, and $33 million to replace or repair damaged infrastructure.
   Federal, state and local governments have built dams, levees and floodwalls, dredged channels, removed debris and provided funding and incentives to clear floodplains to reduce the hazards and damage associated with flooding, according to FEMA.
   But Michael Bolch, the official in charge of federal recovery operations in Tennessee, said, "Despite all the government money that is spent, the ultimate burden of lowering flood risk lies with the property owners who are in harm's way.
   "The best way to reduce flood vulnerability is one house, one neighborhood, one community at a time," he said.
   Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Director John D. White said the first step in reducing flood risk is to talk to local building code-enforcement officials. "These local officials can show you current flood maps, explain floodplain ordinances, and give you practical advice on reducing future damages."
   To reduce financial risk, FEMA recommends buying flood insurance, whether the homeowner's property is located in the floodplain or not. Flooding frequently occurs in areas outside designated floodplains.
   Flood insurance pays to repair physical damage from flooding, while policies bought or renewed since June 2000 also provide up to $30,000 to bring a flood-damaged structure into compliance with floodplain ordinances to reduce future damage.
   Carter County Planning Administrator Chris Schuettler can pinpoint whether a structure is in a floodplain and can tell the homeowner what elevation standard must be met for construction.
   Information on the Flood Insurance Study and Flood Insurance Rate Map, published by FEMA, also is available from the county Planning office, according to Schuettler.
   "State and local governments are squarely behind the effort to make structures more flood resistant," White said. "Buildings that comply with National Flood Insurance Program standards suffer 77 percent less flood damage than those built before local enforcement of those standards."
   The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is estimated to save $1 billion a year in flood losses, reducing the cost of disaster relief for all taxpayers. For more information on flood insurance, call the NFIP information line at 1-800-427-4661.