FEMA encourages residents to register for relief money

Katherine Martin

Just over three weeks after tornados tore through the state of Alabama, 71,487 people in the state have registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said FEMA spokesperson Tim Tyson. In Tuscaloosa County alone, 11,131 people have registered.

FEMA has given out $40 million in grants to the state and Tuscaloosa County has received more than $9 million of those grants, about one-fourth of the grants in the state, Tyson said.

Currently, FEMA has 26 disaster recovery centers located throughout the state, four of which are stationed in Tuscaloosa. More than 15,000 people have visited at least one disaster center to receive help registering and filling out forms since the storms hit, Tyson said.

Tyson said 95 percent of all FEMA inspections have been completed within three days for registration.

“We know that there are still a number of people who have not registered for a various number of reasons, either because their neighbor had more damage than they did and they did and they decided to wait or they did not think they had enough damage for assistance from FEMA or they thought they had adequate insurance,” he said. “We encourage everyone to register because they may be eligible for some kind of FEMA assistance.”

President Obama has backdated FEMA assistance to include damage from tornados on April 15 in addition to the April 27 storms, he said.

There is an estimated 3.5 million cubic yards of debris on the ground in Alabama, 1.5 million are centralized in Tuscaloosa, Tyson said.

FEMA is working closely with the Alabama Housing Authority, Housing and Urban Development, the city, the county and people with property they can rent to find temporary housing for displaced residents.

Currently, modular housing is not being considered in Tuscaloosa because FEMA believes they can find enough places for people to live.

“Our focus is to put people into housing until they can get their house back in shape to where they can move in,” he said.

Since flooding began on the Mississippi River, questions have been asked as to what the next step for FEMA will be.

“There was an immediate assumption on a lot of people here,” Tyson said, “I think it goes along with the nature of volunteerism that the people here in Alabama had for each other, as soon as the flooding started in Mississippi, I heard from a lot of people say, ‘I guess you’ll go to Mississippi now since they need it more than we do.’ But we’re still here and we’re glad to be here till the job is done.”

Tyson said the April 27 tornados were an outbreak of historic proportions, but at its basic root, it was a tornado, which FEMA has experience with. The challenge, he said, was meeting the size and scope of the disaster with the materials and expertise they had.

The disaster preparation done years ago by the mayor, the city and the county has helped FEMA with the work they have done in Tuscaloosa, Tyson said.

“It’s taken our experience with natural disasters of a partial scale and rapidly increased it to fit the size of this disaster,” he said, “which is somewhere between a hurricane and a single tornado.”