BY DARRELL S. PRESSLEY and PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HEBRON - Three Northern Kentucky counties have been declared federal disaster areas, making residents, businesses and governments in those areas eligible for money and other assistance.
Campbell, Kenton and Gallatin counties join an unenviable and growing list of 24 counties declared disaster areas.
Gov. Paul Patton, who on Thursday toured via helicopter flooded areas of Northern Kentucky, asked the federal government earlier this week to place the local counties on the disaster area list.
Earlier this week, Mr. Patton toured Falmouth, which has been devastated by the flooding.
''We want to find out what the needs are of those people who've been hit by flooding and other weather-related disaster,'' Mr. Patton said during a Thursday morning meeting with federal, state and local officials at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
''As the water recedes and the cleanup begins, people are going to start experiencing a lot of heartache, maybe even some depression,'' he said. ''We want to assure them that the state is, and will, do all it can.''
Mr. Patton said the flooding has caused an estimated $235 million in damage in Kentucky, ''making this the worst flooding in Kentucky since 1937.''
That figure will surely rise as the water subsides and officials get a complete look at the damage the flooding has caused across Kentucky.
Federal disaster relief officials told several county and city officials during Thursday's meeting that individuals, businesses and local governments can begin the process of applying for federal funding and other assistance by calling the Federal Emergency Management Agency at (800) 462-9029.
The hearing impaired can contact FEMA via TTY at (800) 462-7582.
''The place to start getting help is with that number,'' said FEMA field coordinator George Thune.
Aid programs include assistance to individuals for repairs and mortgage and rental subsidies, housing and loans to cover uninsured property losses. People whose homes or residences were damaged may be eligible to receive federal funds for up to 100 percent of their repair or rebuilding costs, Mr. Thune said.
County and city governments can receive up to 75 percent of the costs to repair roads, bridges and buildings, he said. The local government will be required to pay 25 percent.
While charities and other relief efforts have provided assistance to flood victims, some local city officials said situations in their communities have reached the point where they need help from the federal government.
''I've got 115 families without homes,'' said Covington Fire Chief Joe Herringhaus. ''Can we get somebody to help them?''
Kenton County Disaster and Emergency Services Director Rob Owen estimates that nearly 600 homes throughout the county, including 242 in Covington and 133 in Bromley, have been damaged by the flooding.
And California City Councilman Wayne Smith said most of the 200 residents in the tiny Campbell County river town have suffered damage or destruction of their homes or trailers.
FEMA will set up meetings with local government officials that request help in applying for aid, he said.
''We're ready to do a lot of hand-holding to help people get the relief they need,'' he said.
FEMA is bringing about 200 staff members into Kentucky with most expected to be in the state by today, Mr. Thune said during the airport meeting.
The agency is establishing its statewide central office in Lexington, ''but we'll have plenty of people up here working with you,'' Mr. Thune told the 30 or so local officials at the meeting.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Patton, dressed in a Kentucky State Police gray uniform, spoke to students at Gray Middle School in Union during their Career Day, before heading out to flooded areas.
Mr. Patton cautioned students to stay out of flooded areas, because the waters can be deadly. ''Seventeen people lost their lives,'' he said.
He also cautioned students not to stay in or return to their homes during flooding. ''There are four people in Falmouth who are dead because of it,'' he said.
''You need to always respect water.''