- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

WASHINGTON, Ind. (AP) - More than three months after a tornado caused heavy damage in southwestern Indiana, local officials fear a neighborhood ravaged by the storm could end up as a blighted area now that rebuilding efforts appear to have stalled.

Daviess County Emergency Management Agency Director Paul Goss said he’s concerned about the slow pace of recovery from the Nov. 17 tornado that hit western Daviess County and the county seat of Washington.

For a few weeks after the storm, the hard-hit Sycamore Street corridor in the city of about 11,000 people some 50 miles northeast of Evansville was filled with a flurry of activity. But that was soon replaced by condemnation notices and scant signs of work on damaged, tarp-covered homes.

Goss said it’s unclear if the storm repairs have stalled because of the punishing winter weather, insurance issues or the local economy.

“It feels disheartening that the progress seems to have stalled. … I’m worried that we may end up with a blighted neighborhood,” Goss told the Washington Times-Herald (http://bit.ly/1mLfNk9 ).

The tornado that hit Washington rated an EF-2 on the Fujita scale and was among at least 28 tornadoes that struck Indiana Nov. 17. The outbreak was the state’s third-largest on record.

Washington Mayor Joe Wellman said some homes damaged by the tornado weren’t insured and others appear to have been vacant before the storm, which produced nearly 200 tons of rubble. He said the city has already begun condemnation procedures on eight damaged homes due to the safety problems they pose.

Dealing with abandoned homes and property could prolong those safety concerns for months, or longer, he said. And demolishing the abandoned, storm-tossed homes could prove expensive.

“Obviously, that would be taxpayer money,” Wellman said.

A recent U.S. Small Business Administration disaster declaration for the area could help address the situation.

Representatives with the federal agency visited Washington two weeks ago and took 17 applications for low-interest loans to help with the rebuilding process. Agency officials said many of those seeking help had discovered that their insurance was not covering all of the costs for replacing their damaged property.

The Small Business Administration’s declaration came after Federal Emergency Management Agency officials twice declined to provide grants to rebuild the area.

“I think that decision has had an impact,” Goss said. “If that declaration had gone through the recovery would have been much faster.”

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Information from: Washington Times-Herald, http://www.washtimesherald.com