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Published: Monday, 7/3/2006

Bush declares storm disasters in Lucas, Huron, Erie counties

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

President Bush declared a federal disaster yesterday in six flooded and tornado-stricken counties in northern Ohio, including Lucas County, unlocking grants and low-interest loans for victims.

Victims from Cuyahoga, Erie, Huron, Lucas, Sandusky, and Stark counties whose property was damaged during the severe weather June 21 to 23 can apply, said federal officials, who urged them to begin immediately.

"Right now, we really just want to get the applications going," said Jean Baker, a regional FEMA spokesman.

Last night, state and federal emergency management officials still were planning to meet to come up with an action plan in the wake of the declaration.

Jesse Munoz, the FEMA official heading the relief program, said he would coordinate today with regional officials and hoped to have a field office set up in northern Ohio by Wednesday. He was reassigned last night from Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in Biloxi, Miss.

Federal aid typically includes grants up to $5,200 for temporary housing and other money, up to $26,500, to cover such things as funeral costs and medical care from injuries, Ms. Baker said.

But the declaration's primary effect, officials said, is the authorization of federal low-interest loans to replace or repair damaged property.

The loans, through the U.S. Small Business Administration, could cover:

  • Up to $40,000 to help repair or replace personal property, including clothing, furniture, and automobiles.

  • Up to $200,000 to repair primary homes.

  • Up to $1.5 million to repair or replace a business' damaged property.

    The interest rates for loans top out at 4 percent or 8 percent, with the greater limit for those who can obtain credit elsewhere. The loans typically have a maximum duration of 30 years.

    A preliminary damage assessment released Friday by officials in the six counties concluded that 25 homes were destroyed, 317 homes suffered major damage, 1,064 suffered minor damage, and 3,262 had cosmetic damage such as water in basements and lost shingles.

    "We may very well have more," said C.J. Couch, spokesman for Ohio's Emergency Management Agency. "That's the benchmark figure."

    Lucas County officials said the declaration amounts to much-needed economic relief. "That is a significant benefit to those who've had damage to their homes," Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber said of President Bush's declaration.

    Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak predicted that dozens of Lucas County residents would qualify for assistance. "I'm glad we are being recognized as one of the hard-hit areas."

    She said county leaders would continue to seek federal assistance for overtime to pay workers for storm cleanup. She said she didn't believe overtime was automatically included. "Every dollar that can come home to our community is critical," she said.

    Those wishing to apply for aid can call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or apply online at www.fema.gov. The hearing-impaired can call 1-800-462-7585 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

    Blade Staff Writer Jane Schmucker contributed to this report.

    Contact Tad Vezner at: tvezner@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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