FEMA opening office in Vicksburg|[9/6/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Federal money will be available for local governments, but not local residents, the director of the Warren County Emergency Management Agency said today.

“Warren County has not been declared part of the disaster area as far as individual assistance,” said L.W. “Bump” Callaway.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was, however, establishing a local office to provide aid to those who fled Hurricane Katrina, before or after it struck coastal areas eight days ago, and remain in this area.

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The Jackson Street Community Center and the city’s safety department building on Clay Street have been offered to FEMA, Mayor Laurence Leyens said. The office may open later in the week.

Some sense of normalcy also returned with the reopening of all public and private schools in Warren County today. They had been closed for a week plus the Labor Day holiday. Buses are being fueled at a facility reserved for local emergency vehicles.

Gas lines thinned Sunday and Monday and it appeared fuel was readily available today. Major distributors are honoring a pledge not to raise prices in disaster areas, but prices were soaring at stations operated by independents not covered by the pledge.

Needs to be met for evacuees by FEMA include lodging expense reimbursements for hotel or motel stays and rental assistance, which includes cash payment for temporary rental units or manufactured homes.

FEMA’s disaster assistance allows individuals directly affected by the hurricane to receive assistance that may include cash grants up to $26,200 per individual or household. Housing assistance includes a home-repair cash grant and permanent housing construction in rare circumstances.

Other assistance includes FEMA medical, dental and furniture costs; transportation costs; and other disaster relief needs.

Callaway did not rule out individual assistance becoming available to Warren County or other area residents.

“The damage was so extensive – of such magnitude and severity – that FEMA is still engaging in life-saving efforts,” he said. “That has to take priority.”

Congress has approved $10.5 billion so far, and FEMA will reimburse local governments for their added expenses.

“This is for those agencies that went above and beyond normal duties,” he said. “Basically, it will recover any overtime and some specific expenses related to the hurricane. We had some damage up here, but in comparison Warren County isn’t a disaster zone.”

Meanwhile, the process of restoring electricity to 4,000 in Warren County and a “few hundred” customers in Claiborne County continued today by Entergy, other utilities and imported crews.

Don Arnold, Entergy’s representative in the counties, said the number is down from 6,000 Sunday and 22,000 the day after Katrina blew through.

Arnold said many customers without power have neighbors who do – something he assures is common in widespread outages and he knows adds to frustration.

“Entergy is focused on getting as many customers back on the grid in the shortest time possible,” he said. “Because of the extensive damage, there are many isolated outages that take more time to restore.”

The Vicksburg Area Chapter of the American Red Cross is initiating its family services program for the almost 700 evacuees in shelters in Warren County, as well as those in hotels and motels and residences, said Red Cross director Beverly Connelly.

“Right now, we’re in decision-making mode to initiate family services, which is from the national sector – we’re in the Red Cross mode of family services – which has nothing to do with FEMA or other federal agencies,” Connelly said. “It’s going to take some time.”

The local chapter reached capacity Saturday afternoon as far as offering long-term assistance to evacuees. As a result, Gov. Haley Barbour has sent a 52-person mobile National Guard unit from Indiana to provide medical services to all evacuees staying in Warren County. The unit arrived late Monday night. The unit is part of FEMA assistance, Callaway said.

“The country is responding as a country,” he said. “This is a massive mobilization of caring, qualified people. I told them I thought the last time we had troops come in from Indiana was about 1860.”

The unit arriving Monday, the A Company 205th Area Main Support Battalion 38th Infantry Division from Camp Aterberry, which is made up of a physician, three physician assistants, LPNs and medics, is a self-contained unit with 19 vehicles, cooks, mechanics and drivers, will provide outpatient services to evacuees.

They will stay as long as needed, Callaway said, and their services do not take away from those needed in hard-hit coastal areas.