WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that federal disaster aid was been made available today for five tornado-ravaged Arkansas counties under a major disaster declaration issued for the state by President Clinton.
FEMA Director James Lee Witt said the President authorized the assistance immediately following a review of the agency's analysis of the state's expedited request for federal relief. The state was hit by a string of deadly tornadoes and other extreme weather starting January 21.
"The President's action demonstrates his deep concern for the safety and welfare of the many families devastated by these destructive storms," said Witt, who toured tornado-damaged areas this afternoon. "He acted quickly in committing the necessary federal resources, and we will work as fast as humanly possible in aiding all those in need."
The five counties designated for federal aid by Witt following the declaration include Independence, Pulaski, St. Francis, Saline and White.
The assistance, to be coordinated by FEMA, can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, minor home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses. Low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration also will be available to cover residential and business losses not fully compensated by insurance.
Additionally, Witt said federal funds will be provided for the state and affected local governments in the five designated counties to pay 75 percent of the eligible cost for debris removal and emergency services related to the disaster. The declaration also makes cost-shared funding available to the state for approved projects that reduce future disaster risks.
Witt indicated that more counties and additional forms of assistance for state and local government agencies may be designated later based on the results of ongoing damage assessments. He named Graham L. Nance, of FEMA's regional office in Denton, Texas, to coordinate the federal relief effort.
Nance said residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin the disaster application process by calling 1-800-462-9029, or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will be available starting Sunday, January 24, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CT) seven days a week until further notice.