Washington, DC -- The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced today that President Bush has declared Washington State a major disaster area, triggering the release of federal funds to supplement recovery efforts in the Seattle area jolted yesterday by a powerful earthquake measuring 6.8 in magnitude.
FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh said the President took the action this evening immediately after receiving the agency analysis of the state's request for federal assistance submitted this afternoon.
"The President is committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of people in the earthquake area," Allbaugh said. "He has pledged the support of the federal government and made resources available as may be required to help meet immediate needs and assist in the rebuilding process."
Allbaugh, who toured the earthquake area earlier today, said stricken residents and business owners in the counties of King, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, Pierce and Thurston are eligible to apply for federal aid under the President's major disaster declaration.
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, federal funds will be provided to the state and affected local governments in the designated counties to pay 75 percent of the costs for debris removal, emergency services related to the earthquake, and repairing or replacing damaged public facilities, such as roads, buildings and utilities. The declaration also makes funding available to the state on a cost-shared basis for approved projects that reduce future disaster risks.
Allbaugh, who designated the counties eligible for federal aid following the declaration, said more jurisdictions may be added for assistance as soon as damage can be assessed throughout the stricken area.
William Lokey of FEMA was named by Allbaugh to coordinate the federal relief effort. Lokey said that 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 operate from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. (PST) seven days a week until further notice.
Lokey advised that those who sustained damage should first contact their insurance agent and make an assessment of the degree of damage before calling the toll-free telephone service.
"While we encourage everyone to apply for aid, our immediate priority is to assist people most in need," Lokey said. "We would greatly appreciate those with minor damage delaying their calls for a few days to keep the lines open for taking applications from others who may have been left homeless or suffered significant losses."
Lokey also noted that it normally takes seven to ten days after applications are made to have damage verified by FEMA housing inspectors and another week or more before qualified applicants receive assistance checks.
"We ask that people exercise a little patience and assure them that we will be available for as long as it takes to deliver all the assistance they are entitled to receive."