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Published: Friday, 6/25/2010

Region loses plea for tornado relief; FEMA denies disaster funding

BY JIM PROVANCE AND GRETA STETSON
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS - The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Thursday denied the state's plea for a disaster declaration for the early June tornadoes that caused damage in three northwestern Ohio counties and killed six people.

Local leaders expressed outrage last night after learning of the news, saying the road to rebuilding will be difficult without the federal financial aid a declaration would have allowed.

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) said he believed that had federal officials seen more of the destruction, the result of Gov. Ted Strickland's declaration request might have been more favorable.

"A picture is worth a thousand words," Mr. Latta said. "Being on the ground might have been worth a million dollars."

He said the next step for his office would be to send letters to President Obama and Mr. Strickland asking them to appeal the decision, as is allowed by FEMA over the next 30 days. Beyond that, Mr. Latta said state officials would have to examine what other sources of aid are available.

According to the FEMA letter dated yesterday and sent to Mr. Strickland, "It has been determined that the damage was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments, and voluntary agencies."

Mr. Strickland, who had directly spoken to President Obama about the request last week during the latter's visit to Columbus, also expressed disappointment that the declaration was not forthcoming.

His disaster declaration request estimated the public cost of cleanup, temporary facilities, and emergency protection at about $1.3 million for Fulton, Ottawa, and Wood counties.

"While we knew when we applied that there was no guarantee the region would meet the technical requirements to qualify for this aid, we wanted to pursue every option to help these communities recover as quickly as possible," he said. "We are currently pursuing other federal programs that may be able to offer assistance to Ohio, such as the [Small Business Administration] loan program.

"The state also committed resources to provide relief as the region rebuilds," Mr. Strickland said. "We will continue to do everything in our power to help those Ohioans whose lives were impacted by this tornado."

At the request of the Department of Public Safety, a legislative panel recently transferred nearly $673,873 from an emergency contingency fund for state use in responding to the tornado damage from June 5 and 6. At the time, the state hoped the money would serve as matching funds for federal assistance that it now knows isn't coming.

Instead, the aid is likely to be directly spent to help individuals, local governments, and state agencies through state programs.

"We will work with local leaders to determine where the needs in the communities are," Strickland spokesman Amanda Wurst said. "[The Ohio Emergency Management Agency] was working on a plan in the event the federal assistance did come through, so we'll be able to move forward quickly."

The department has estimated that the storms that cut a swath through Fulton, Wood, and Ottawa counties destroyed 45 structures and damaged 119 others.

In Wood County's Lake Township, the public high school and police station-administrative offices were destroyed.

Lake Township Police Chief Mark Hummer said he too was disheartened by the news.

"The federal help would have been minimal," Chief Hummer said, adding that the local community's efforts already had cleaned up a large part of the mess. "We weren't talking about sending $100 million to some foreign country; we were talking about the people who pay the taxes that allow [the country] to be that generous."

Mr. Hummer said insurance will only pay for some of the relief costs and that, even when the area recovers from this disaster, it is uncertain whether it will be the only one that the township suffers this year.

"Some of us don't even know what we've lost yet," he said. "It's been a nightmarish few weeks."

Fulton County Commissioner Paul Barnaby agreed that federal money would have been helpful.

"We're not happy about [the decision]," added Wood County Commissioner Alvie Perkins, noting that he believed federal officials must not have fully heard the governor's cry for help.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com,

or 614-221-0496.



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