Federal Disaster Help Extended to Saturated Georgia

ATLANTA, Georgia, September 25, 2009 (ENS) - The heavy rains have stopped, but across northern Georgia much damage has been done. President Barack Obama Thursday declared a major disaster exists in Georgia and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area struck by severe storms and flooding beginning on September 18.

The President's action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Carroll, Cherokee, Cobb, Douglas, and Paulding Counties.

The portion of Governor Sonny Perdue’s request covering 12 other counties and aid to governments that sustained damage to buildings and public costs due to the storms is still pending. The disaster declaration does not cover the city of Atlanta, which is located in Fulton County.

Vice President Joe Biden will travel today to Georgia to survey the flood damage by helicopter and then visit with families affected by the floods. Then, he is expected to make an announcement about further federal disaster relief.

On Tuesday, state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine estimated the cost of damage caused by the flooding across north Georgia including metro Atlanta at $250 million. "I spent some time surveying damage in affected areas of our state this afternoon, and I believe the damage total will easily reach $250 million," Oxendine said. "Many of the homeowners afflicted by this event don’t have flood insurance."

But Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin was quoted in the "Atlanta Journal Constitution" as telling members of the Obama administration that the damage is soaring beyond $1 billion.

Franklin said city authorities have counted nearly 475 homes hit by the flood. "We know that 60 were destroyed, and over 200 were severely damaged," she said.

Flooded Atlanta residents stack water-damaged possessions out in front of their home. (Photo by Andrew Odom)

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said damage surveys are continuing, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated for federal disaster help after the assessments are fully completed.

"The recovery is just now beginning," Governor Sonny Perdue said Thursday. "We have a great deal of work to do and I appreciate President Obama’s approval of the disaster declaration. We will continue to work closely with FEMA as damage assessments continue and further assistance becomes available."

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 from the effects of the disaster. Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

The Georgia Emergency Management Agency is coordinating the state's response effort. "We are coordinating the recovery effort with our local, state, federal and volunteer partners," said GEMA Director Charley English. "Damage assessment teams are continuing to work with local authorities in all affected areas of the state to assess losses."

There have been nine fatalities and one injury attributed to the flooding.

Some of the heavy rainfall hit eastern Tennessee, where some people have been forced from their homes.

The American Red Cross sheltered more than 420 people in Georgia and Tennessee overnight, a signal that even though flood waters are slowly receding, many are still unable to return to their homes.

The Red Cross has more than 200 volunteers and staff and 18 Emergency Response Vehicles in the area with more on standby. Clean up and comfort kits are being distributed and almost 2,000 meals have been served to those affected by the flooding.

"Our focus is on making people as comfortable as possible, feeding them and taking care of their immediate needs," said Joe Becker, Red Cross Disaster Services senior vice president. "We have the workers, equipment and supplies here on the ground to do that with more on standby if needed."

FEMA said that residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin applying for assistance today by registering online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.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 operate from 7 am to 10 pm local time.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.