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Gov. Gregoire Frustrated About Federal Response to Flood

05:35 PM PST on Monday, December 10, 2007

KING5.com Staff and Associated Press

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OLYMPIA, Wash. – Gov. Chris Gregoire, increasingly restless about the pace of the federal response to Washington’s flood disaster, on Monday said mop up and restoration will take months, not days or weeks.

“It will be tough sledding,” she said.

While waiting for federal relief to flow, the governor and her cabinet announced an array of direct services, including emergency food stamps and unemployment checks, in some of the affected areas in southwest Washington.

At least six people died in stormy weather last week, hundreds of farm animals were killed, Interstate 5 and scores of other roadways were closed for days, and hundreds of homes, farms and businesses were destroyed or heavily damaged. State officials have said damage could tally in the billions.

Gregoire said non-governmental aid will also be crucial. Neighbors have been helping neighbors with immediate relief, including shelter and help with mop-up, and Gregoire said that effort has been “nothing short of amazing.”

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But she quickly added, “We can’t think it’s over. We’re in for a long haul. This is not about days or weeks; it’s about months of recovery.

“I hope our Washingtonians will be able to help us get through the coming weeks and months.”

Gregoire heaped praise on state and local responders, but for the first time made it clear that she was frustrated at the pace of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response.

The governor said she had expected FEMA to get a White House emergency declaration last Thursday, believing that it was “greased” by the state and FEMA Region X office with clearly documented damage figures and video.

The papers weren’t signed until Saturday and relief for individuals and businesses in hard-hit Grays Harbor and Lewis counties not until Sunday, and only after the state’s congressional delegation flew FEMA officials around the district. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Rep. Norm Dicks, all Democrats, are budget powers in Congress.

“We pushed as hard as we could,” Gregoire said, clearly frustrated.

Gregoire, who took daily flights over the area and met with families in most of the affected communities, said state agencies were “on the ground” from the very beginning. “We’ve been out there,” she said.

She drew a contrast with FEMA and the federal bureaucracy.

“I guess they’re from Missouri. They had to be convinced, be shown, about the tragedy that has befallen so many of our citizens,” she said.

The head of the state National Guard and the top state emergency management leader, Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, said a joint field office will open by Wednesday or Thursday, more than a week after the worst flooding, and pointedly said the timing is FEMA’s call. Typically a response center is operating within 72 to 96 hours of the emergency declaration.

Mike Howard, spokesman for FEMA’s Region X in Bothell, sought to downplay any criticism. He said the government was moving promptly, released emergency declarations over the weekend and had an on-site federal coordinating officer.

“Both state and federal officials are interested in providing support to the state of Washington as quickly as possible,” he said in an interview.

Gregoire’s spokesman, Lloyd Brown, said the governor has been trying not to criticize FEMA publicly, but said her news conference made her point.

“She was surrounded by her cabinet and the message was, `We’re not going to get caught up in bureaucracy. We’re going to get services to the people in a timely manner.”‘

Lowenberg said more than 100 National Guard troops were still involved in recovery work, including delivering supplies and directing traffic. Troops did 1,000 home checks, brought in portable showers and supplied tarps to cover roofs.

He said troops also were still conducting welfare checks on people, especially along the Pacific coast, where about 700 utility customers were still without electricity.

The state still was assembling damage estimates and would try to get more counties added to the federal declaration so more relief can start flowing, the general said.

Secretary of Social and Health Service, Robin Arnold Williams, said she expects to receive approval from the USDA to operate a temporary disaster food stamp program in Lewis and Grays Harbor counties.

Wiliams said it will allow the state to be more flexible in the eligibility for food stamp assistance.

“People who would not normally be able to access them will be,” she said.

Food stamps will be available not only to people who live in Lewis and Grays Harbor counties, but also to those who work in those counties.

In addition, she said “They do not have to be displaced totally from their homes to qualify.”

Williams said people must apply for food stamps in person at one of two offices:

– Aberdeen – Community Service Office, 415 W. Wishkaw

– Centralia – Temporary office is at 3401 Galvan Road

Hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today, tomorrow and Wednesday.

Williams said crisis counseling services are also available to flood victims.

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Damage left behind after trees fell on a Montesano house.

Unemployment services are also available to people who have lost their jobs and to small business owners who usually wouldn’t qualify.

Gregoire said the state will issue a “call out to Washingtonians” for the kind of assistance or help that is needed that government can’t provide.

 “We need the cash, the volunteerism, the generosity of the people of the state that has been amazing,” she said.

Is help getting to those who need it?

Those still digging out from the mess in Lewis County say food, water and clothing are getting to those who need it.

“And that’s, what I think, is the glue that’s holding this community together,” said Chris Paulson, son of one Curtis flood victim.

A Red Cross service center in Chehalis has seen over 100 people seeking money, housing and more since it opened Sunday.

Jacqui Linden lost everything but the clothes on her back.  She says until now, finding help hasn’t been easy.

“Salvation Army.  We went to United Way.  We went to DSHS today and they just said ‘we can’t help you right now.  Just go to American Red Cross,'” said Linden.

Frustrated by the red tape of well-intentioned relief agencies for things like gas vouchers, some are no longer waiting for the Red Cross or FEMA.

Well before the floods happened, Tom Hulbert set up a 501C3 foundation to directly help community members in times of crisis, bypassing the bureaucracies.   With so many farms and low-income families in the area, the need has never been greater.

“Their gas bills are coming due.  Their PUD bills are coming due.  Their phone bills.  They don’t have the money.  They’re going to need some money and we feel it’s incumbent upon us to get them that money in a timely manner.” said Hulbert.

People who would like to donate to help people in Boistfort in Lewis County may send their check to the Boistfort Valley Community Foundation, c/o Post Office, Curtis, WA 98538.

(KING 5’s Eric Wilkinson contributed to this report)


December 13, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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