Leader Blues

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

TOP STORY > >Estimates of storm damage still rising

Leader staff writer

When the tornado hit Cabot two weeks ago, Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said he realized the FEMA-sponsored disaster training he and his department heads had sat through in Jacksonville months before was worth the effort.

“It talked about the level of training we would need to do this job,” Williams said. “We all griped about going and the test wasn’t easy, especially for me. But it worked.”

Since FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has estimated the uninsured damage to public buildings like the skateboard park, a bridge on First Street and roof damage at the school at $225,000 — $60,745 more than the $164,295 threshold — the city should be eligible for reimbursement for repairs and cleaning up.

Williams said he is keeping up with all the costs like fuel and overtime for city workers so he will be ready when the official notice comes in within 60 to 90 days.

The damage threshold is calculated at $3.11 for each county resident. Since the damage to public buildings met the threshold, the federal government should pay 75 percent of the uninsured damage, while the state and city will each pay 12.5 percent.

Within 15 minutes after the storm passed, a temporary command center had been set up at the Tastee Freeze on Hwy. 367.

Within two hours, the residents of homes in the damaged areas had been contacted and it was clear that there were no injuries.

By 4 a.m., the power had been turned off so the roads could be cleared. By mid-morning, crews of city workers and volunteers were hauling debris to the street for pickup. And by midday, Hwy. 367 was crowded with sightseers.

“If we normally have 20,000 people in town, we had 40,000 that day,” said Jerrel Maxwell, head of public works.

So far, 100 dump-truck loads of wood from an estimated 80-90 downed trees have been hauled to the old city dump, where it will be burned.

“I can’t say enough good about the Forestry Service,” the mayor said. “They sent men with chainsaws. And the county judge sent two dump trucks and a backhoe.”

By the time FEMA inspectors made their rounds last week, much of the debris had been hauled away. But Williams said the destruction was still evident and he wasn’t worried that by cleaning, he ran the risk of the city not getting full credit for the damage.

Volunteers and city workers removed downed trees and debris from private property with the owners’ permission, he said. A few residents worried that cleaning would have a negative effect on their insurance claims, but not many.

FEMA has not yet told the city how much damage was done to private property, but the mayor says the amount is in the millions. If the amount of uninsured loss meets or exceeds the $164,295 threshold, residents will be eligible for disaster aid.

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said Tuesday that as far as he knew, Cabot was the only city in the county with damage to public property, and like Williams, he said he still had not been given a damage estimate for private property anywhere in the county.