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FEMA Loan Deadline Looms; State Buyout Budget May Not Be Big Enough

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RALEIGH — State officials are worried they will not be able to pay all theHurricane Floydvictims who are eligible for the first round of home buyouts.

As many as 17,000 homes in eastern North Carolina are uninhabitable because of Hurricane Floyd. As many as 11,000 of those homes may be eligible to be purchased by the federal government.

Hurricane Franin 1996. The FEMA buyouts get victims out of flood-prone areas and give them some money to get started again. But they have other consequences for a community.

The City of Rocky Mount has applied for $41 million alone -- the most of any municipality. Assistant City Manager Charles Penny does not believe the buyouts will make Rocky Mount a ghost town."There will be pockets, if at all. If we're able to buy all the houses that we've submitted an application for, there will be pockets where we'll have a lot of vacant land," Penny says.

These buyouts can also hurt the tax base. For example, the FEMA purchase will play a large role in reducing Edgecombe County's tax base by 10 percent.

"It's a tremendous hit and obviously that translates into about $810,000 in taxes, in revenue that the county won't have for budgeting purposes next year," says county manager Joe Durham.

The application deadline for home buyouts is February 29.

The deadline to apply for disaster loans fromFEMAis Tuesday, and some emergency management officials worry that even with a deadline that close, some flood victims are not asking for help because they are intimidated by the paperwork.

Marion Simon's home is weeks away from full recovery, and most of her Rocky Mount neighborhood is still empty.

Money from FEMA is helping, but she says many of her friends have a tough time making sense of the government paperwork that comes before the help.

Simon says some of the forms seem repetitive, and people may think they have already completed them.

Flood victim Cornell Davis finds the long process and personal questions intimidating as well.

FEMA workers say they will walk victims through each step of the process. If necessary, a worker can even fill out the forms for victims.

Governor Hunt has asked FEMA to extend Tuesday's deadline an additional 30 days.