Seven NC counties eligible for federal disaster aid

President Barack Obama on Wednesday declared a federal disaster in seven North Carolina counties hit by Hurricane Irene, paving the way for residents to receive federal aid.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — President Barack Obama on Wednesday declared a federal disaster in seven North Carolina counties hit by Hurricane Irene, paving the way for residents to receive federal aid.

Striking last Saturday, Irene destroyed more than 1,100 homes, punched through N.C. Highway 12 on the Outer Banks in three places, flooded croplands and caused $71 million in damage. That total is expected to rise as crop losses and clean-up costs are tallied.

"Our fellow North Carolinians who suffered losses during this storm need to start rebuilding their lives now – not tomorrow," Gov. Bev Perdue said in a statement.

The declaration covers Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Dare, Hyde, Pamlico and Tyrrell counties.

Residents and business owners in those counties can apply for low-interest loans or grants to cover uninsured losses, such as home repairs, medical costs and business losses. The federal aid goes only toward primary residences, not to second residences such as vacation homes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will start registering people for aid on Thursday. To apply, register online or call 1-800-621-3362 or (TTY) 1-800-462-7585.

FEMA personnel are continuing damage assessments this week, and additional counties might be declared disaster areas, the White House said. Perdue said she's also asked the U.S. Agriculture Department to speed up assistance for farmers whose crops were damaged.

"Additional counties may be able to come in quickly as we identify additional damages," FEMA Deputy Administrator Tim Manning said.

FEMA will be able to meet the needs for recovery efforts although its emergency fund has dwindled to $800 million, Manning told WRAL News.

He said the agency's has shifted its focus to give priority to immediate needs, such as debris removal, food, water and emergency shelter, over long-term rebuilding efforts in areas struck by previous natural disasters.

"It focuses our resources on disaster survivors and the immediate programs that need to be in place for life-saving, life-sustaining missions that get communities back on their feet," Manning said.

The Obama administration requested $1.8 billion for FEMA's disaster relief fund for the upcoming budget year. The agency estimated this spring that would leave the fund short by $2 billion to $4.8 billion.

A homeland security funding bill that would likely replenish the disaster relief fund passed the U.S. House in June, but the U.S. Senate hasn't acted on it. The bill could get caught up in a battle to offset its costs with cuts elsewhere, but a provision in the recently passed debt limit and budget deal permits Congress to pass several billion dollars in additional FEMA disaster aid without budget cuts elsewhere.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack viewed the hurricane damage in North Carolina on an aerial tour Tuesday.

Before the hurricane struck, Obama declared an emergency in 34 North Carolina counties, which lets the federal government help pay for emergency response such as shelters, food and search-and-rescue missions.

People who want to help in the North Carolina recovery can send their donations to the N.C. Disaster Relief Fund.

The fund, which is operated through the state Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, will distribute money to various volunteer organizations that work on long-term recovery efforts, such as the repair and rebuilding of homes. Donations are tax-deductible, and funds are for recovery efforts only, not for administrative costs.


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