- Associated Press - Monday, August 22, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The West Virginia Army National Guard over the weekend began tearing down homes ruined by floods in June. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin wants those communities to rebuild with a long-term focus on diversifying their economies.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer told state lawmakers Monday that demolition began Saturday in Greenbrier County. The Guard will transition demolition work in the affected counties to contractors in an effort to put locals to work.

As those buildings come down, Hoyer said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin wants communities to envision how they want to look five years from now, and not think about what they looked like before the floods. Flooding in June killed 23 people in West Virginia and destroyed homes, businesses and infrastructure.

The Mountain State has endured high unemployment rates, particularly because of the downfall of its iconic coal industry. Out of the 8,500-plus households that applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency individual aid, 39 percent fall into a low-income category, Hoyer said.

The governor views the recovery as a chance to focus on long-term economic growth and sustainability, Tomblin spokeswoman Jessica Tice said. The administration is assembling higher education, public health and economic development officials to work with residents and local leaders to draw up strategic plans for the flood-ravaged regions.



“This is an opportunity to look at important economic drivers, such as tourism and entrepreneurship, as cornerstones for job creation and more diversified local economies,” Tice said in an email Monday.

So far, the state has approved $363,400 in grants to help 45 small businesses recover from the floods. Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette told lawmakers Monday the aid affects 287 jobs. Applications for the RISE West Virginia grants have come in from 222 businesses in 11 counties, including 89 in Greenbrier County, 50 in Kanawha and 42 in Nicholas. Those are being processed.

On Monday, Hoyer said the Guard has spent $6.5 million on the recovery to date, and transportation officials have estimated the damage done to roads has topped $55 million. But firmer overall state cost numbers won’t be available until after Labor Day, Hoyer said.

Volunteers, meanwhile, have poured in more than $6 million worth of donations and services, Hoyer said.

FEMA told the state that it will make a cost-share recommendation to the White House if the state’s damage assessment reaches $250 million, Tice said. FEMA said the state has not reached that mark yet. The state wants to shoulder only 10 percent, instead of 25 percent, of costs, with FEMA covering the rest.

Also on Monday, Tomblin extended a state of emergency for Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Nicholas, Roane, Summers and Webster counties. The emergency declaration expired Monday evening for Jackson, Lincoln, Monroe and Pocahontas counties.

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