FEMA approves public assistance for 18 more Oklahoma counties

Sunday, February 4th 2007, 5:46 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The federal government approved public disaster assistance for 18 more Oklahoma counties Friday, a day after Gov. Brad Henry expressed frustration over its refusal to qualify all 23 counties he sought disaster declarations for following devastating ice storms last month.

The latest counties are in eastern Oklahoma, where waves of ice and snow Jan. 12-14 toppled tree limbs and power lines, knocking out power to about 125,000 homes and businesses. The counties are: Adair, Atoka, Bryan, Cherokee, Coal, Cotton, Craig, Haskell, Hughes, Johnston, Latimer, Mayes, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Ottawa, Seminole, Sequoyah and Wagoner.

``I am pleased FEMA has reconsidered and will be providing public aid to these storm-ravaged counties,'' Henry said. ``Oklahomans have waited too long, but it is good to know they will be receiving help soon.''

On Thursday, FEMA approved assistance for public entities in Delaware, McIntosh, Muskogee and Pittsburg counties in eastern Oklahoma that were hit by the ice storms.

FEMA issued the same declaration for Beaver, Cimarron and Texas counties in the Oklahoma Panhandle for damage suffered during a snowstorm from Dec. 28-30.

On Thursday, Henry said he was disappointed by the government's slow response to his request.

``We believe the federal government needs to do more,'' Henry said. ``There is plenty of damage out there to homes and individuals.''

Under the declarations, the federal government will pay 75 percent of costs of debris removal, infrastructure repairs, emergency protective measures and restoration of utilities. The state and local governments will each pay 12.5 percent.

Of the 23 counties in the governor's disaster declaration request, all but Choctaw County have been approved, Henry said. He said he will continue to work with FEMA, local emergency management officials and the state's congressional delegation to secure assistance for that county and other affected areas.

Henry also said he wants FEMA to approve Oklahoma's request for individual assistance in ice-battered counties.

``This was a historic ice storm that brought damage not just to public property, but to private property as well,'' Henry said.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said a special damage assessment phone number set up following the ice storm will be disconnected on Monday and that homes and businesses that sustained uninsured or underinsured damage have until then to file a report.

More than 2,400 calls have been received on the toll free line, said Michelann Ooten, spokeswoman for the agency. Ooten said the reports strengthen the state's application for federal disaster assistance for individuals and business owners.

Callers have reported roof, window and fence damage caused by downed trees as well as electric meters pulled from homes by downed power lines and damage to electric systems and appliances, Ooten said. Fire damage to some homes has also been reported.

The reports also show that some medical conditions were complicated by the ice storms. Extended power outages contributed to depleted wheelchair batteries and insulin supplies and damaged oxygen concentrators needed for asthma and other respiratory conditions.