State officials say President Bush must declare areas in Mississippi hit by Hurricane Gustav a disaster area before residents can qualify for federal assistance.
“We applied with the federal government for a federal disaster declaration, which we have not received yet,” Mississippi Emergency Management spokesman Greg Flynn said Monday. “We’re kind of caught between a rock and a hard place right now.”
Rebecca Anderson, an alderwoman in Gloster, which was hit hard by Gustav, said frustration is mounting around town.
“A lot of these people here in Gloster don’t have insurance,” she said. “My thought is, ‘We’re paying taxes, what are they going to do?’ ”
Damage assessments must meet a threshold set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in order to qualify for assistance.
“It depends on the number of people that were affected and the amount of damage,” Flynn said. “It’s frustrating because people call us, and they want to know if they can get housing assistance or
Louisiana parishes affected by Gustav met the FEMA requirements and received a presidential disaster declaration — as well as a variety of assistance — last week.
Damage assessments are under way in Mississippi.
“I believe this Gustav was worse than Katrina, according to the damage,” Anderson said. “The wind was rougher than Katrina. … Katrina wasn’t that bad. More trees are down this time than in Katrina.”
Gov. Haley Barbour requested a federal disaster declaration for 16 counties a week ago and updated that declaration on Monday, adding two more counties to the list.
State officials said damage from Gustav is expected to exceed $78 million.
In his disaster declaration, Barbour asked for reimbursement for debris removal, repair to public infrastructure and facilities, and overtime costs for city and county workers for preparation and response to Gustav.
The state also is seeking aid including food stamps, extended unemployment benefits, low-interest Small Business Administration loans, Hazard Mitigation Grants and the Individuals and Households Program, a FEMA-administered program that helps people who were displaced or lost personal property to a natural disaster.
In the meantime, residents in need of assistance may need to turn to non-government agencies such as the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and faith-based organizations, Flynn said.
As far as government assistance is concerned, he said, “We don’t have a good answer for them yet.”