Obama adds 9 counties to disaster declaration; West Liberty points to progress

bestep@herald-leader.comjwarren@herald-leader.comMarch 10, 2012 

President Barack Obama approved a federal disaster declaration for nine additional Kentucky counties hit by recent tornadoes and storms, Gov. Steve Beshear announced Friday.

The president extended the declaration to include Bath, Campbell, Carroll, Grant, Magoffin, Martin, Montgomery, Rowan and Wolfe counties, Beshear said in a news release.

That makes a total of 16 counties — including Johnson, Kenton, Laurel, Lawrence, Menifee, Morgan and Pendleton — in which the president has authorized individual assistance for people affected by the tornadoes, storms and flooding.

Federal officials said a disaster recovery center would open in West Liberty at 9 a.m. Saturday to help survivors with property damage and other problems. Officials said people should register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance before visiting the center.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers said Friday that damage assessments are continuing in some counties.

Kentucky National Guard Sgt. Shari Kinslow said two other counties, Bell and Harlan, submitted requests Friday to be added to the disaster declaration. FEMA will review those requests to confirm that the counties qualify.

The declaration makes assistance available to people and households with damage and losses that resulted from tornadoes and flooding that began Feb. 29, Rogers said.

Tornadoes caused damage in several counties that day. Another round of tornadoes and storms caused even greater property damage March 2, in addition to 23 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Renters, homeowners and business owners in the disaster areas may apply for low-interest loans and grants for temporary housing, basic home repairs or other disaster-related needs. Assistance can help with uninsured property losses, and medical, dental and funeral expenses.

To register with FEMA, go to Disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362. The number is available 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

FEMA will ask for:

■ The telephone number where an applicant may be reached.

■ The address where an applicant lived at the time of the disaster and the address where the applicant is staying.

■ Social Security number.

■ A general description of damage to property and other losses.

■ The name of the insurance company and policy number or agent if the property is insured.

■ Bank account routing information for direct deposit of funds.

Victims are urged to document damage with pictures and save receipts from repairs.

Later Friday, officials in West Liberty said the city and west Morgan County are slowly returning to something like normal a week after being devastated by a tornado, though much remains to be done. A dusk-to-dawn curfew is in effect throughout the county, and mountains of debris must be cleaned up.

"This is a major, major disaster that will take us years to ever get back to where we once were," Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley said.

Conley and other officials began a news conference Friday at 5:47 p.m., the time the tornado struck Ezel, a community west of West Liberty, on March 2.

Officials pointed to several signs of recovery.

West Liberty Mayor James Rupe said gas service was back on in many parts of town, and that electrical service had been restored for most of the roughly 4,000 people who lost power in the storm.

A former factory building has been outfitted to serve as a site for students from West Liberty Elementary School, which was destroyed in the storm. Officials said teachers are expected to have an in-service day at the makeshift school Wednesday. Classes are expected to resume about a week after that.

Lion Apparel, which employs about 230 people, returned to work Thursday, but officials said many Morgan Countians are still not able to return to their damaged homes.

"We don't give up," Conley said. "We get knocked down, but we don't give up."

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655.Twitter: @billestep1Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255

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