FEMA expands flood help

Catharine Young

September 08, 2009

FEMA expands flood help
William Flagg, left, a flood victim from Persia in Cattaraugus County, listens to State Sens. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, at Friday's news conference.
Charles Lewis/Buffalo News

FEMA expands flood help

Homes, businesses now qualify for aid

News Staff Reporters
Frustration turned to relief Friday when victims of last month's devastating floods learned that the federal government would reimburse them for damage to their homes and businesses.

"I can't be happier," Gowanda Mayor Richard Klancer said after hearing the announcement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "People lost their homes, lost their clothes — they didn't have anything left. To have to wait any longer really wasn't an option for them."

The decision was made nearly a month after storms pounded Gowanda, Silver Creek and other towns and villages in southern Erie and northern Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, causing widespread damage to streets, municipal buildings and homes.

While President Obama had announced Tuesday that local governments in the region would receive federal aid, individuals affected by the storm had been left to wonder if they would receive FEMA assistance.

"A lot of folks have very limited personal resources, and they haven't had the funds to start their repairs or replace their belongings, so this is really going to help enormously," said State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean.

Although the declaration is good news for many, it is just the start of a lengthy process for residents and business owners.

While officials cautioned that individuals likely will not be reimbursed for all of their storm-related damage, the decision means that at least some financial help is on the way.

Leading up to the decision, members of the region's congressional delegation had aggressively lobbied FEMA to provide money for home and business owners.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who made his case by phone Wednesday to FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate, was among those praising Friday's announcement.

"The federal government has now stepped up to the plate, and the hundreds of homeowners and small-business owners who have lost so much in Erie, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua [counties] can breathe a sigh of relief," Schumer said in a statement. "We will be working with them to fill out applications and get the federal help as soon as possible."

The public assistance previously announced typically covers costs local governments incurred to remove debris and repair or replace roads, bridges and other damaged public property, according to Gov. David A. Paterson's office.

Individual disaster assistance, the governor's office stated, generally can include:

- Temporary housing or repairs meant to make homes habitable.

- Grants to replace personal property or to meet transportation, medical and funeral expenses not covered by insurance or aid programs.

- Low-interest disaster loans from the Small Business Administration.

- Crisis counseling, unemployment assistance and other aid programs.

"New York State will continue to do everything possible to help the communities recover from these devastating floods," Paterson said in a statement. "Now I am urging individuals and small businesses who have been impacted by these floods to help themselves by calling 1- 800-621-FEMA and register for this federal disaster assistance."

Individuals also can register to receive assistance by visiting www.fema.gov.

Hours before the FEMA announcement, state and local officials had held news conferences in Gowanda and Silver Creek to highlight the need for individual aid.

Flood victims who accompanied Young at a Friday morning news conference said they had nowhere left to turn for aid.

"I can only take so much more of living on a campground," said Lynette Slocum, whose home in southern Erie County cannot be salvaged.

She and her husband, Ken, have been living in a trailer since the flooding that followed Aug. 9-10 floods.

Silver Village Mobile Home Park, which housed 35 residents, was destroyed during the flooding.

Barbara Amrozowicz, the community's manager, said all the park's residents were left helpless.

"Every one of my residents is now homeless," Amrozowicz said. "They need the help."

Chautauqua County Executive Gregory J. Edwards, who has been working closely with Young to request funding, says residents should do everything they can to document the damage and expenses they have incurred due to flood damage.

"It's all going to come down to being able to show your damage and show your costs," he said.

Young echoed that message after the federal aid was announced.

"Continue documenting your damage, make sure that you report it to the county emergency services, and make sure you take pictures and keep receipts," she instructed.

The next step, she said, is to bring FEMA officials into the communities to assess how much funding individuals will receive.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com