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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 20, 2006

Residents get $273K in federal storm aid

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer


A Disaster Recovery Center will be reopened from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through next Saturday at the Kaua'i War Memorial Convention Hall. The center will be closed on Wednesday, however.

A center will remain open at Kahala Mall in the former Borders Express location from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Those affected by the storms must register before going to a center. They may do so by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362) or online at www.fema.gov.

The disaster center at Kualoa Ranch closed yesterday, but the U.S. Small Business Administration will open a center at the ranch on Monday. SBA representatives will be on hand to provide information on loan applications from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday until further notice.

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More than 360 Hawai'i residents have applied for federal disaster relief and $272,697 in federal grants have been issued, but officials say those numbers are expected to increase as the state gets a better idea of how much damage was caused by heavy rains this spring.

State and federal agencies have opened Disaster Recovery Centers on Kaua'i and O'ahu to help residents and businesses that suffered damage or losses during the storms and flooding. Officials have been on hand to provide information on various assistance programs.

One of the beneficiaries of the disaster aid is the Deal family, which saw its home in Hau'ula flood three times. The family estimated damage at $27,000.

Sheila Deal went to a recovery center at Kualoa Ranch on May 9, not knowing whom to talk to or what to ask. But within two days, she received a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to help pay for the damage to her home.

"I didn't know what I was getting into, then all of a sudden they were right at my doorstep," Deal said. "They came the very next day. They looked over our house, the damage and they estimated."

Deal said that on May 11, she found a "gift" in her bank account. She would not say how much FEMA gave to her, but said it was "about half" the estimate.

Still, Deal said she was grateful for the money and will use it to fix the home's plumbing, floor and also to level the house, which shifted during the flooding. She said much more work needs to be done, but she and her husband, David, probably won't apply for further assistance.

"They made it work for us so we're going to work on it slowly," Sheila Deal said. "We're gonna work with what we have."

David Deal, a chaplain for the Disabled American Veterans Association and a Vietnam veteran, said he also appreciated the government's help.

"This was the first time since Vietnam that I ever asked for anything from my government and they paid," David Deal said. "I'm a very grateful vet."

A major disaster declaration signed by President Bush earlier this month directed FEMA to join local governments in providing assistance to people on Kaua'i and O'ahu who were affected by the storms.

As of yesterday, 362 people registered for disaster assistance and $272,697 in federal grants were approved. The money was approved for a range of requests, including housing assistance and home repairs, said Dave Curtis, state Civil Defense spokesman.

Curtis said 229 homes have been visited by FEMA inspectors and 164 people have been to the recovery centers in Honolulu, Ka'a'awa and on Kaua'i. He said state and federal officials believe these figures will grow.

"Bear in mind, it's still a work in progress," Curtis said. He added that there still is no firm estimate as to how much damage was caused during the rains from Feb. 20 to April 2.

"The number I keep hearing is $50 million, but I'm not even sure that number has been nailed down yet," Curtis said.

The state Department of Agriculture also has received 43 applications for low-interest emergency farm loans, said Janelle Saneishi, department spokeswoman. She said 11 have been approved, two have been submitted for approval, 25 are being processed, two were referred to federal agencies, two denied and one application withdrawn.

She said the 11 loan approvals were all under $25,000, and the remaining applications range from less than $25,000 to $250,000. The interest rate on these loans is 3 percent.

She said the 43 applications are unprecedented for a weather-related disaster. She said there is no estimate at to how much damage was suffered by local farmers.

"This is one where we got the most applications for loans, so we know it was bad," she said. "Since this was so prolonged and so intense, there are a lot of farmers who need assistance. I don't think we've ever seen this many applications."

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.