Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Federal grants denied after tornado

Most were insured, FEMA concludes

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Private insurance, not federal grants, should cover losses from the tornado that ripped through the Tristate this month, the Clinton administration said Monday.

        James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said tornado damage wasn't severe enough to merit assistance beyond low-interest loans offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

        In a letter to Gov. Bob Taft, Mr. Witt noted about 95 percent of the deadly storm's victims have private insurance. Most also are considered too wealthy to qualify for federal grants.

        “Based on a careful review of the information available, it has been determined that the impact of this event is not of a severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration,” Mr. Witt wrote.

        Mr. Taft and U.S. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, lobbied hard for the federal declaration, in part to win reimbursement for the estimated $3.4 million state and local governments spent cleaning up debris and posting additional police.

        They hoped Vice President Al Gore would announce more federal aid for uninsured losses as he toured the tornado-stricken area last week. But the an nouncement did not come.

        “Obviously I'm disappointed the president chose not to deliver disaster aid to Ohioans impacted by the April tornado,” Mr. Taft said in a statement.

        If the area had been declared a federal disaster area, tornado victims could have qualified for housing and unemployment grants, along with federally funded crisis counseling and other aid.

        Local governments are expected to lobby the state to help them cover the cleanup costs.

        State disaster officials estimate the area suffered $82 million in damages, including $12.4 million in uninsured costs and $3.4 million for state and local government relief and cleanup efforts. Of the uninsured losses, individuals suffered $6.6 million and businesses $5.8 million.

        Tornado victims can qualify for low-interest federal loans to cover their uninsured losses.

        “I've spoken with top SBA officials to urge them to get their disaster relief personnel established in Southwest Ohio as soon as possible,” Mr. Portman said. “SBA assistance can help get people back on their feet.”

        While the tornado damage was devastating to many homeowners, the 1997 flood dealt more than double the estimated economic losses in Ohio — $180 million. Seventeen Southern Ohio counties were declared federal disaster areas.

        Because many companies either don't offer or charge extra for flood insurance, only about a third of the $180 million in losses was insured.


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