OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Gov. Brad Henry has asked the federal government for individual assistance to residents of Oklahoma and Tulsa counties who suffered uninsured damage during a devastating ice storm last month.
Henry said more counties will be added to the request if individual assistance is approved for the state's two most populous counties.
If approved, individuals would be eligible for government help with housing repairs or temporary housing, low-interest government loans for individuals and businesses to repair or replace damaged property, disaster unemployment assistance and grants for various needs and disaster expenses not met by other programs.
“Many Oklahomans across the state are still suffering from the aftermath of the ice storm that left more than 640,000 homes and businesses without power, many for more than a week,” Henry said.
A total of 29 people died due to the Dec. 8-10 storm and hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged. In addition, thousands of Oklahomans lost income because their employer was closed due to storm-related power outages.
“Oklahomans deserve help, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure they get the assistance they need,” the governor said.
Henry's request was forwarded directly to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday and would amend a disaster declaration approved by President Bush last month that granted public assistance to 25 counties impacted by the storm, said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
That declaration provided federal assistance for expenses related to infrastructure damage including roads, bridges and public facilities, as well as the cost of debris removal.
Henry's request follows damage assessment surveys in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties by teams of FEMA and U.S. Small Business Administration workers to determine if damage qualifies them for individual assistance.
“We've been working to make the case,” Ooten said. “We have certainly been taking steps to try to identify all the factors.”
At the worst of the storm, about two-thirds of Oklahoma's 3.5 million residents were without power and 175,000 homes remained without power one week later, Ooten said.
“It was simply an historic storm,” she said.
Officials have painstakingly documented the damage following FEMA's denial of individual assistance to victims of a January 2007 ice storm that knocked out power to more than 120,000 homes and businesses in eastern and far northeastern Oklahoma, Ooten said.
“We hope they will seriously consider all the ancillary issues in reviewing the request,” she said.
Ooten said emergency management officials have received 14,000 damage reports from residents and business owners statewide. Half of them have no insurance to cover damage and no repairs have been made.
Damage includes broken electrical meter boxes and other equipment outside homes and businesses needed to receive power that the homeowner is responsible for, Ooten said. The cost of repairing broken electrical equipment in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties alone is estimated at $10 million, she said.
The request also covers the removal of debris, including branches and trees, from private property. Ooten said an estimated nine million cubic yards of debris remains on private property in the two counties.
“This represents fuel for wildfires,” she said. “That becomes a public safety issue for the state.”