- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

President Barack Obama has signed a disaster declaration to speed federal recovery aid to victims of the recent deadly wildfires in a hard-hit eastern Tennessee county.

A White House statement late Thursday says the declaration is intended to expedite federal funding for Sevier County, where fast-spreading flames claimed 14 lives and damaged or destroyed more than 2,500 homes, businesses and other buildings in that Appalachian tourist locale.

The declaration is to allow for grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners back on their feet, according to the statement issued in Washington.

It adds that the Federal Emergency Management Agency says damage surveys are continuing, and more counties and additional assistance may be designated later.

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