WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Eleven Oklahoma counties ripped by a swarm of deadly tornadoes have been designated for federal aid by the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under a major disaster declaration issued for the state today 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 submitted this morning for federal relief. The declaration covers damage from severe storms and tornadoes that hit the state May 3-4.
"The President is deeply concerned about the tragic loss of life and destruction caused by these devastating storms," Witt said. "He has acted quickly in committing all necessary federal resources, and we will work as fast as humanly possible in aiding all those in need."
Witt, who arrived in Oklahoma City today, reported that two advanced teams of FEMA disaster specialists and seven Civil Air Patrol ground assessment units were deployed to assist state and local emergency operations. U.S. military aircraft, as well as federal public works and health and medical resources, also have been activated to support immediate response efforts.
The 11 counties designated by Witt for federal aid to tornado-stricken residents and business owners include Caddo, Cleveland, Creek, Grady, McClain, Oklahoma, Kingfisher, Lincoln, Logan, Pottawatomie and Tulsa.
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 11 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 further damage assessments. He named Robert Hendrix of FEMA's regional office in Denton, Texas, to coordinate the federal relief effort.
Hendrix 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 (TDD) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will be available starting Wednesday, May 5, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CT) seven days a week until further notice.