- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

President Bush declared the District of Columbia a major disaster area today, clearing the way for thousands of property owners and renters to get federal disaster assistance for the first time ever.
"The whole ball game has changed," said Peter G. LaPorte, director of the District of Columbia Office of Emergency Management.
Heavy rains Friday through Sunday inundated the city's 130 year-old sewer system sending a foul mix of storm run-off and raw sewage churning through neighborhoods.
"We're looking at more than 3,000 homes and that will grow and as people understand the whole district can qualify and apply," Mr. LaPorte said. Since Monday, damage assessments have focused on the major property damage marked by soiled carpeting and mattresses, and sodden drywall dragged from basement apartments in several neighborhoods.
Residents are being encouraged to identify damage and take full advantage of all assistance, including grants and loans.
"Please apply, it just makes sense," said Mr. LaPorte.
Although the city has received disaster assistance twice since 1999, the aid has been limited to repairing damage to public facilities including roads, bridges, and schools.
Federal Emergency Management Agency officials began their assessment Tuesday with a look at a sample of 320 damaged homes spread throughout the city. FEMA director Joe M. Allbaugh said people could begin filing for assistance Friday morning, and inspectors will come out to survey damage.
"We will get to it in due order," Mr. Allbaugh said, adding that assistance could include temporary housing while homes are cleaned and repaired.
FEMA will make income-based grants of up to $13,900 to cover uninsured losses. The Small Business Administration will also provide low interest loans of up to $200,000 to cover housing losses and $40,000 for other personal property. Small businesses can borrow $1.5 million to cover uninsured losses.
Within an hour of the issuance of the disaster declaration, city agencies joined the Red Cross in opening a flood relief headquarters in the basement of a church 18 blocks northwest of the Capitol.
Flood victims were encouraged to visit the facility to obtain damage claim forms or pick up food, cleaning supplies and replace clothing lost or damaged in the flooding.
District firefighters cruised neighborhoods late Thursday to identify unreported damage and distribute flyers outlining the scope of available public assistance.

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