FEMA: Assistance Won't Cover Damages

FEMA: Assistance Won't Cover Damages

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ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) -- Federal Emergency Management officials said Friday that even if personal disaster assistance is made available for flood-stricken homeowners in southern Utah, it wouldn't come close to covering the expenses for the dozens of homes washed away.

FEMA emergency management specialist Martin McNeese said the agency could provide up to $26,200 in rent for temporary housing, but could only cover up to $10,500 in replacement costs for families whose homes were destroyed. For home repairs, the figure is capped at $5,200.

But even that aid isn't certain, because it's still subject to federal approval.

"They're not designed to make somebody whole after a disaster. They're meant for immediate emergency needs," FEMA representative Jim Chestnut said. "If you lost part of your roof after a tornado, that might be just the ticket. But if your house fell into the river and it's worth $300,000, it's obviously not going to make up the difference."

Chestnut said federal officials have received Gov. Jon Huntsman's official request for aid, but it could be weeks before any final decision is made.

He said public assistance for damage to infrastructure was likely, but that private assistance for individual homeowners was less certain.

On Thursday, legislative leaders met with southern Utah lawmakers to see what, if anything, can legally be done to provide "bridge" loans or grants to the stricken area.

Much of the damage was done to roads, bridges, water and sewer lines. For a short time, raw sewage was flowing out of a broken pipe into the Santa Clara River, which at one time was flowing at 1,000 times greater capacity after heavy rains combined with other runoff to wash away homes, golf courses and other structures.

One man was killed when his SUV got stuck in a creek crossing, and he was swept off the roof of his vehicle.

This year, lawmakers have more than $270 million in one-time funds, but there are many demands on the money.

If legislators and Huntsman decide to give the loans or grants quickly, checks could be cut as early as next week, legislative leaders said.

"We are trying to urge them to go with a percentage amount, instead of a fixed dollar amount," said Washington County Commissioner Jim Eardley.

Amid the cleanup, the Federal Aviation Administration has launched an investigation into a private helicopter pilot who saved a family stranded by the flooding.

Jeremy Johnson, a 29-year-old St. George resident, flew numerous rescue and supply missions as part of the relief effort when the Santa Clara River overflowed its banks and devoured 40 homes.

Johnson said the FAA told him he failed to give a required seven days' notice before offering helicopter rides above the flood-damaged region.

He also allegedly violated FAA rules when he carried explosives and an explosives expert across the river -- at the request of local rescue coordinators -- to help free up a blockage on the river that was contributing to the flooding.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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