Federal government prepares financial aid for tornado victims
May 5, 1999
Web posted at: 6:31 p.m. EDT (2231 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 5) -- With federal disaster areas having been declared in Oklahoma and Kansas, a pressing question for those affected by this week's tornadoes is how soon can they get started on rebuilding their lives?
"From what we have seen and from all the reports, this is probably one of the most devastating tornadoes that we've ever seen," says Herbert Mitchell from the Small Business Association's Office of Disaster Assistance.
A preliminary estimate from the Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an industry trade group, said insured losses in Oklahoma City could reach $225 million. Add other losses in and around Oklahoma and Kansas and officials say the total cost of the storm could be as high as $1 billion.
The federal disaster designation is meant to speed the process of relief and recovery with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) providing Washington's initial short-term help.
The initial step is a home inspection. "We will send an inspector to their house and to determine what assistance that we can provide them, whether it be rental assistance or funds to help them make minimal repairs to make their house habitable," says Barbara Russell of FEMA.
Russell says checks are mailed out within a two weeks of a property inspection. FEMA also acts as coordinator of 27 federal agencies including the Small Business Administration (SBA).
"We have inspectors that are ready to go, to be on sight, right now, to actually go out and do the inspections generally within probably two to three days of getting a complete application," Mitchell says.
The SBA is billed as the government's disaster bank for longterm help. It offers low cost, 30-year loans of up to $200,000 for homeowners. Renters and homeowners may also qualify for $40,000 personal property loans. Businesses can get as much as $1.5 million.
California's Northridge earthquake in 1994 prompted four billion dollars in SBA loans. A year earlier, there was $626 million for victims of the midwest floods. And last year, $360 million after the misery of hurricane Georges.
But, tornadoes, in some ways, present people with the toughest challenge of all. A direct hit by a twister often leaves its victims nothing to salvage. For those people a federal disaster loan can mean help on starting all over again.
CNN's Gene Randall contributed to this report.