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Published: Thursday, 7/8/2010

Ohio appeals FEMA denial

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The total uninsured impact from last month's tornado damage in Wood, Ottawa, and Fulton counties will exceed $1.3 million, beyond the ability of state and local governments to respond, Gov. Ted Strickland told federal officials yesterday.

"Burdened by the long economic recession, the storm-ravaged communities continue to suffer high unemployment rates and declining tax revenues," Mr. Strickland wrote in a letter to President Obama via Andrew Valasquez, FEMA's regional administrator in Chicago.

"Moreover, congressional reluctance to extend recently expired unemployment benefits places a further strain on those struggling to meet basic needs and retain hard-earned property and assets," he wrote. "This appeal is a request for assistance to recover from an incident of such severity and magnitude that an effective response is only possible with federal assistance. The cost of over $1.3 million is too great for the state and local communities to bear."

Although Ohio had 30 days in which to challenge the decision refusing to declare a federal disaster in the three counties, the appeal was filed in less than two weeks. FEMA had determined that the uninsured damage could be handled by local governments, volunteer agencies, and the state.

The letter of appeal contained updated numbers, noting that the Wood County village of Millbury, with a population of 1,161,

had seen about a third of the 441 homes impacted, with many of them destroyed or uninhabitable.

The letter noted that damage was not restricted to the tornadoes' paths, as the American Red Cross estimated that 646 homes were damaged by storms throughout Wood County on June 5 and 6. Businesses were also affected in all three counties, with 27 sustaining major damage in Wood.

"This private sector impact may increase unemployment, decrease income to owners and employees alike, with an overall loss of services within the counties," Mr. Strickland wrote.

The report also notes the emotional toll the storms wreaked on the communities, including six fatalities and the destruction of Lake High School that was about to hold its graduation commencement ceremony.

The state recently had $673,873 transferred from an emergency contingency fund to help respond to the emergency, but it has not used that money in hopes it would ultimately be used as the state's 25 percent match toward federal assistance.

David Popp, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), said the congressman had reviewed Mr. Strickland's letter to FEMA and backs the appeal.

The Strickland administration is also seeking help from a federal Small Business Administration loan program for homeowners and businesses.

A survey supporting the application estimates that a total of 78 homes in the three counties sustained major damage valued at $6.3 million.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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