Home repair aid being considered by FEMA
By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau
By Dennis Camire
WASHINGTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency is assessing whether Hawai'i homeowners who suffered earthquake damage should receive help from the federal government.
"At this point, there has been no decision on it, other than we need to get more information to understand whether there is a requirement for (assistance)," Bob Fenton, regional operations chief for FEMA, said yesterday.
The criteria being weighed include the amount of damage, and the number of injuries and deaths caused by the earthquakes, the population of low-income and elderly people in the area, and unemployment caused by the disaster, he said.
Other factors include the help provided by state agencies and volunteer groups, such as the Red Cross, and insurance coverage in the affected area.
A final element is the extent of damage compared to an average number of homes destroyed or seriously damaged in past disasters. For states with fewer than 2 million people, that average is 173 homes, Fenton said.
FEMA has had assessment teams on the Big Island since Sunday, the day of the earthquakes.
"Earthquakes are a lot more difficult because there may be cracks or damage to the foundation that from outside with the naked eye, you just don't see," Fenton said. "It's really important that we take our time ... and talk with the individuals who live there."
Gov. Linda Lingle asked for individual assistance in her original request for a disaster declaration but more time was needed to gather the information, Fenton said.
He said the FEMA team on the Big Island is working with state and local officials, and hoped to complete the damage assessment there by today.
With their information, Lingle will then be able to request that federal individual assistance be added to the disaster declaration President Bush issued on Tuesday.
That declaration only covered aid for debris removal and some emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance under the public assistance program and hazard mitigation.
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said the original declaration didn't go far enough because it did not allow for federal aid to repair homes, businesses, schools and roads.
Fenton said that once the assessments are completed and the governor asks that individual aid be added to the disaster declaration, FEMA could make the final decision internally.
Fenton said federal assessments had been made at two communities by yesterday morning, and three more were slated to be completed by the end of the day.
"We've seen about 20 residences so far that have major damage — 50 percent damage to the structure," Fenton said. "We have seen over 100 residences in the two villages we were at yesterday which had effective damage — minimum damage ... but it's habitable."
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