- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2001

More than 3,000 disaster victims — most of them homeowners and businessmen — are finding out they won't receive nearly as much money from the federal government in disaster relief as they need to make repairs and clean up the mess left by the two-day storm that drenched the area Aug. 11 and 12.
The District, however, got a piece of good news — the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced yesterday it will widen its disaster aid to include public roads, bridges and city buildings.
"The federal government will now pay 75 percent of all damages to public property like schools and hospitals, and any transportation infrastructure needs," said FEMA spokesman Michael Sweet.
The decision came after Federal Emergency Management inspectors toured the city and saw cracks in bridges, poor road conditions and flooded schools and hospitals.
Since Friday, inspectors in the neighborhoods interviewed 1,507 claimants and inspected 236 homes. Not all will qualify to receive a check. The majority of those who will be mailed checks won't find more than four digits on them.
Victims of a July 12 storm in southwestern Virginia that caused severe flooding received checks that averaged about $1,500, according to Federal Emergency Management records.
In one sector, 625 rural property owners were given a total of $1,319,322, an average of $2,110 per claim, to make their homes habitable. Fifteen others, who suffered greater damage, received low- interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Only 75 percent of the money disaster victims receive comes from FEMA. The remaining 25 percent comes from local governments in the official disaster area. In this case, that includes the D.C. government, Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland and Alexandria and Arlington County in Virginia.
FEMA sends out the checks, then bills the local governments for their part of the tab.
Serita Sanders, 32, of the District's Bloomingdale neighborhood in Northwest, the area most severely hit by flood and sewage damage, said she hopes to get more aid from Federal Emergency Management than the $13,900 maximum they have listed for cash grants.
She filed her claim Saturday and should find out how much she will actually get within the next 10 days. But she knows, without even seeing the size of the check, that it probably won't be enough.
"I have at least $50,000 in damages; I have had to replace a washer and dryer, and my basement will have to be gutted and renovated," Miss Sanders said.
In addition, Miss Sanders has developed a bad cough and other respiratory problems from breathing in mold and bacteria collecting in her basement.
In Miss Sanders' case, FEMA will most likely recommend that she not only seek grant money, but also look to the SBA for a low interest loan.
"When a natural disaster occurs, the SBA becomes the federal bank, and you don't have to have a business to apply or qualify for a loan," said Michael Sweet, a spokesman for FEMA.
"The Small Business Administration offers a 3.375-percent-interest loan to any individuals who qualify for claims from FEMA or who apply directly to the SBA, and it can be from 10 to 30 years," said SBA spokeswoman Colleen Haiam.
"The turn-around period for checks — if you qualify — is seven to 10 days, but the loan process may take a little longer," Mr. Sweet said.
One D.C. man won't file any claim at all, even though he may be entitled to file. Monday morning found J.D. Burton, 28, fighting off a sewage back-up in his basement apartment in the 600 block of Constitution Avenue.
"We don't think we would qualify for any disaster aid; so, we will most likely handle this ourselves" Mr. Burton said.
Mr. Burton said he believed that he and his neighbors survived the initial flooding, but that the rains on Sunday may have been more than the system could handle after the damage from flooding.


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