Where's FEMA?

CORNING, AR (KAIT) - Utility crews Tuesday continued work to repair downed power lines and tree limbs. As work continued, hundreds of people across Region 8 asked if FEMA would cut them a check.

Governor Mike Beebe Tuesday asked President Barack Obama to declare a major disaster in Arkansas. If Obama declares a major disaster, federal emergency assistance would cover 75% of the estimated $77 million in damages to public infrastructures. That includes utility systems, roads and bridges, water control facilities and debris removal.

"President Obama responded quickly to our request last week for the initial emergency declaration, and FEMA officials have been working closely with ADEM since then," in a statement released by Gov. Beebe. "We are far from finished with the damage-assessment process, but we are moving forward immediately to secure federal disaster assistance."

According to the mayor's office in Corning, they have been inundated with phone calls from angry residents wanting to know what FEMA is doing. This has created some confusion and stirred rumors the federal government would reimburse people for generators they purchased to temporarily heat their home.

"First of all, we have not been declared for any sort of individual assistance," said Anthony Coy, Coordinator of the Northeast Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

President Obama last week declared parts of Arkansas disaster areas after Governor Beebe said nearly 8,000 utility poles have been knocked down by the January ice storm. Obama's declaration only paved the way for support, not emergency money.

"Gov. Beebe declared us a disaster area. President Obama has also declared us a disaster area, which in turn, allows the federal government to allow us to have direct federal assistance," said Coy.

According to Coy, FEMA is providing city and county governments, as well as non-profit electric co-ops, with generators and other items to keep vital systems up and running within the infrastructure.

The general public primarily sees the benefit in the form of food and water. "The National Guard going through and checking on the welfare and checking how many people need food, water and whatever," said Clay County Judge Gary Howell.

"I have to declare first being county judge, and all this help you get has to go through my office and the o-me, office of emergency management," said Howell.

Howell said, in order for his county to receive emergency funding, FEMA must first assess the damage, put a monetary value on it and then approve its use.

"They just don't write checks. They have to do an assessment of what it is," said Howell. "FEMA will work with the cities, just like they work with me on county roads; they will work with each city."

"What I'm seeing is a lot of damage everywhere we go," said Coy. "We're seeing a lot of debris down on all the roads and all the cities....It's pretty much widespread, from county to county, lot of debris down."

Various municipalities have gotten generators and other equipment from FEMA and the Army Corp of Engineers to keep critical infrastructure facilities running, such as water and sewer plants.

"We unfortunately cannot place those generators at private businesses or anything like that. And we cannot put them at a private household," said Coy. "There are a lot of rumors out there that feta is reimbursing for generators, that is not true."

"On a federal disaster, electrical coops are included, private, not for profit electric companies are not," said Coy.

Howell said the Clay County Office of Emergency Management estimates the damage to be between $25-40 million. He said considering the magnitude of the damage, the price tag could be higher.

"I'm 65 years old and I've never seen anything like it, and I've traveled all over the united states," said Howell.

"There's been a lot of comparison to what a tornado does versus an ice storm, in some aspects a tornado isn't as bad because while you do have a concentrated amount of heavy damage, your neighbors around you are able to come in and help you," said Coy. "When you have an ice storm, being county wide, your neighbors can come in because they're fighting the same battles that you are."

Beebe expects to make disaster declarations for 30 Arkansas counties Wednesday.