FEMA denies funds for flood-ravaged areas

Westmoreland, Allegheny counties will appeal decision

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Officials in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties expressed disappointment upon learning that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had denied the state's request for federal aid for communities ravaged by floods in June.

In a letter dated July 17, FEMA informed Gov. Ed Rendell that it was denying the state's request for a "major disaster declaration" and that "the damage was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the commonwealth, affected local governments and voluntary agencies."


But local officials disagree and said yesterday that they will appeal the federal agency's decision.

"I'm devastated by the news," said Daniel Stevens, a spokesman for the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety. "I just really do not know what they're looking for if those numbers and the amount of damage that we have doesn't meet federal criteria."

After a request from Mr. Rendell, officials from FEMA toured communities in eastern Allegheny County and across Westmoreland County June 24 to 26, surveying the damage to determine if either county would qualify for a major disaster declaration. Much of the damage was caused by torrential rains June 17, which dumped up to 4 inches in just a few hours.

Officials tallied 1,538 structures that were damaged by flood waters in Allegheny County, said county spokesman Kevin Evanto. In Westmoreland County, officials with the Department of Public Safety counted more than 1,000 structures that were affected by the storm. That included 81 single-family homes, four multi-family homes and 27 businesses that received what the agency classifies as "major" damage, Mr. Stevens said.

In its request for a major disaster declaration, the state applied for two kinds of FEMA funding. They hoped to qualify for the agency's Individual Assistance Program, which would have made residents and property owners in both counties eligible for grants, low interest loans and vouchers for temporary housing and repairs. They also applied for Hazard Mitigation funding for the entire state, which would have given flood-prone communities money to raise houses and acquire properties with chronic flooding problems.

In the appeal, Mr. Stevens said he hopes the state will also apply for Public Assistance, which will help ease the cost of the $3.6 million in damages done to county and local roads and bridges in Westmoreland County.

Moriah Balingit can be reached at mbalingit@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533.


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