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Friday, September 30, 2011

FEMA Comes in to Aid Flood Victims

Margaret Dodge had a gaping hole in the basement wall of her Granville home thanks to flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.

A month later, her basement is fixed after the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided her with a grant to help pay for nearly all of the repairs her Route 22 home will need. She declined to say how much aid she received, but she also will get a new furnace and pump.

"They treated me very well," Dodge said.

FEMA money has begun to flow to those who suffered severe damage in the Aug. 28 tropical storm, with the agency saying it had given out $633,000 in individual assistance to residents of Washington and Warren counties as of Thursday.

A number of residents in the worst-hit areas, including Granville, Salem, White Creek and Lake George, said that they had money direct-deposited to their bank accounts within a few days of meeting with FEMA inspectors.

"I had money from them within four days," said White Creek resident Mike Detraglia, whose home near the Hoosic River was severely flooded. "It was not enough to pay for everything, but it was enough to get started."

Detraglia and Dodge were fortunate in that they could repair their homes. A home on Cove Road in Middle Granville that was flooded by the Mettawee River cannot be repaired, so it will have to be knocked down, said Granville Supervisor Matthew Hicks.

The owner, Cindy Crouch, was still waiting as of late this week to hear how much assistance FEMA will provide, Hicks said.

Crouch said a FEMA representative looked at her home and estimated it needed $30,000 in repairs, but she received a check for just $460, plus $1,300 to rent a home while repairs are made.

"They just said this is it. I went Tuesday and filed a new form to appeal," Crouch said.

In Salem, where the White Creek flooded numerous homes, residents whose houses were damaged have received anywhere from $97 to $19,000, town Supervisor Seth Pitts said.

Pitts said not everyone has been satisfied with the amount of federal aid they have gotten. The person who got $19,000 lost a mobile home to the White Creek, but that money won't pay for all of the costs to replace the home, he said.

Detraglia would not say how much money he received. But he said he received $2,000 to put toward replacing a $6,000 furnace, and local contractors have been helping him with costs so he can rebuild. He is still living in a hotel as repairs are made.

Not everyone got money quickly. Hicks and Washington County Public Safety Director Bill Cook said they were aware of some residents who were still waiting for their claims to be paid, and Cook said one of the worst-off victims in White Creek was denied aid because of an apparent paperwork error.

That person, who lives on River Road, is re-applying, he said.

Amy Drexel, deputy director of the Warren County Office of Emergency Services, said she has not heard from any Warren County residents concerned about the individual assistance process. But she said she has heard from a lot of people who suffered damage and were not seeking aid, even though they seem eligible.

"People don't know what benefits they are entitled to," she said.

A number of factors determine how much money those in need receive, including a person's income, Cook said.

Peter Lembessis, a spokesman for FEMA, said the agency has been encouraged by the turnout it has gotten at its mobile disaster recovery centers, which were stationed in Queensbury last weekend and Salem for part of this week.

As individual assistance claims work their way through channels, the attention of local leaders has turned to the status of public assistance for municipalities.

Warren and Washington counties suffered millions of dollars in road and bridge damage, and county leaders hope FEMA will pay for 75 percent of the repairs.

Pitts said that towns are anxiously waiting to hear how much they will receive as the 2012 budget process moves along and they face a 2 percent tax cap.

"Municipalities are sitting on some big bills," Pitts said. "I'm hoping they are going to turn it around quickly for the municipalities, too."

Lembessis said FEMA plans to begin "kick off" meetings with municipal leaders next week, and most should receive the money they are awarded within 60 days.

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