Washington County residents get disaster aid

FEMA decision means residents hit by Dec. 3 storm are eligible for federal money
by: Chase Allgood, Connie Dyer surveys the damage to her 1894 farm house in Dilley a week after the storm that dropped three feet of standing water on her property. She and her neighbors have been seeking federal aid to help with repairs, and Dyer hopes the recent declaration will clear the way.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Friday that residents in Washington County are now eligible for federal disaster relief.

FEMA earlier allowed local government agencies to apply for federal funds to cover an estimated $5.7 million damages to county roads and other infrastructure.

But this latest declaration allows residents to seek aid in the form of grants for temporary housing, home repairs or other disaster-related expenses and low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The agency has not yet given an estimate of the cost of storm damage in the county.

FEMA spokesman Cleo Howell said that the maximum amount of federal aid available to residents is $28,800, but residents shouldn't expect to receive a check for that amount. Rather, he explained, the purpose of the aid is to help bridge the gaps for residents who are uninsured or underinsured.

'The federal government has a law that they won't duplicate coverage from someone else,' Howell said.

Scott Porter, director of the county's Office of Consolidated Emergency Management, said the county has identified about 21 home and business owners whose properties were damaged in the storm, most of those in the west end of the county.

But that's not a definitive list. Porter said that he hopes residents will continue to call his office as well as FEMA so that the county can develop a complete inventory of damages.

'We need to figure out where the problems are so we can be smarter about the work that we need to do, but also there are potentially opportunities for people whose needs aren't met by the federal government,' Porter said.

Porter said his office will work with non-profits such as the Red Cross to provide assistance not covered by federal aid.

Connie Dyer, whose Dilley farmhouse was ravaged in the flood, was ecstatic at the news Friday.

'Excellent,' Dyer said after learning of the declaration from the News-Times early Friday afternoon. 'I am so happy to hear that.'

Dyer and her neighbors, Annette and Corky Brazington, were featured in a Dec. 19 News-Times article about the lack of FEMA assistance to Washington County residents ('County's 'forgotten' flood victims want relief').

Corky Brazington said he heard from coworkers that their homes had flooded and was worried that the flooding was more extensive than the county knew.

Porter said that the declaration was a victory for Washington County residents, but he wished his office had acted in a more proactive way during the storm.

'I feel like maybe we didn't get in front of this earlier and didn't get aggressive in finding properties that were being impacted at the time,' Porter said.

Porter said so far, reports of storm damage have come from Banks, Forest Grove, Dilley, Gaston, Manning, Beaverton and unincorporated Washington County.

The worst flooding that county officials have heard about so far occurred near the Meacham Road bridge over Dairy Creek, northwest of North Plains. Porter said water there rose to nearly half the height of the house.

Getting help

Residents of Washington County whose homes or businesses sustained damage during the storm should call FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA and the Washington County Office of Consolidated Emergency Management at 503-642-0369.

Residents who filed a relief claim with FEMA before the declaration and received a denial may now be able to resubmit their claim. There should be instructions in the denial letter for how to do so but, for more help, residents are asked to call FEMA.

To speak to a person face-to-face, residents may visit any disaster recovery center. But it is recommended they register by telephone or on-line prior to visiting the disaster recover center.

There are two centers in Columbia County, one at Vernonia City Hall, 1001 Bridge St., in Vernonia, and one at the Community Corrections Office, in the Columbia County Justice Facility, 901 Port Ave., St. Helens.

For more information, visit www.fema.gov and click on disaster assistance.