Swift disaster declaration offers relief

Staff and wire reports

President Bush declared a major disaster in Curry and Quay counties Monday because of tornado damage, making residents in those regions eligible for federal funds.

Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said.

“We’re grateful … and pleased it (declaration) happened in such a short and timely fashion,” Curry County Commission Chairman Albin Smith said Monday.
The declaration also makes federal funding available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

“This means relief is on the way for residents who are struggling to take care of their families and businesses and get back on their feet,” Gov. Bill Richardson said.

Richardson signed a request Thursday for a presidential disaster declaration for Curry, Quay and Roosevelt counties. Tornadoes destroyed dozens of homes and damaged hundreds more on March 23. About three dozen injuries were reported; one woman was killed in Clovis.

The worst damage was reported in Clovis and Logan in Quay County.

Initial assessments indicate more than 500 homes were damaged, with 75 classified as destroyed.

“This (declaration) isn’t a fix-all, but it’s a whole lot better than when we first looked at this Saturday morning, nine days ago,” Smith said Monday during a press conference in Clovis.

Additional designations could be made later if warranted, FEMA officials said.

FEMA may be able to provide temporary housing, repair, replacement and permanent construction to qualified households, or other needs such as disaster-related medical or dental costs, clothing, household items, tools or cleanup materials, according to Richardson’s office.

The governor, Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., met Wednesday with FEMA Director David Paulison in Washington, D.C.

“As a consequence of their leadership and tenacity, we have this declaration,” Clovis Mayor David Lansford said.

The president’s declaration triggers access to low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, according to an SBA news release. The loans can provide thousands of dollars to homeowners and renters who lost property or real estate in the tornadoes, according to the release. Businesses and private non-profit organizations may borrow up to $1.5 million to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery, equipment, inventory and other assets, the release reads.

State officials paired with FEMA representatives to gauge what it would cost to rebuild and if there was sufficient damage to qualify as a federal disaster. One team toured Logan and Quay County and made a similar assessment for Roosevelt County on Wednesday. A second team focused solely on Curry County.

Paulison named Justin A. Dombrowski as the federal coordinating officer for recovery operations.

On the ’Net
FEMA: http://www.fema.gov

How to apply for assistance:
Those in the counties designated for assistance to affected residents and business owners can begin the disaster application process by registering online at www.fema.gov or by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362) or (800) 462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired.

The toll-free telephone numbers are available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (local time) Monday through Sunday.

Applicants registering for aid should be prepared to provide basic information about
themselves (name, permanent address, phone number), insurance coverage and any other information to help substantiate losses.

Disaster aids
A summary of key federal disaster aid programs that can be made available as needed and warranted under President Bush’s major disaster declaration for New Mexico.

Assistance for affected individuals and families can include:
—Rental payments for temporary housing for those whose homes are unlivable. Initial assistance may be provided for up to three months for homeowners and at least one month for renters. Assistance may be extended if requested after the initial period based on a review of individual applicant requirements.

—Grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary and functional.

—Grants to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, state and charitable aid programs.

—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 to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance.
Loans available up to $200,000 for primary residence; $40,000 for personal property, including renter losses.
Loans available up to $1.5 million for business property losses not fully
compensated by insurance.

—Loans up to $1.5 million for small businesses that have suffered disaster-related cash flow problems and need funds for working capital to recover from the disaster’s adverse economic impact. This loan in combination with a property loss loan cannot exceed a total of $1.5 million. (Source: U.S. Small Business Administration.)

—Loans up to $500,000 for farmers, ranchers and aquaculture operators to cover production and property losses, excluding primary residence.

—Crisis counseling for those traumatized by the disaster; income tax assistance for filing casualty losses; advisory assistance for legal, veterans benefits and Social Security matters.

Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency.