FEMA Deals With Record Number of Disasters

With Hurricane Ivan threatening the Gulf Coast and cleanup still underway from the battering hurricanes Charley and Frances gave Florida, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (searchhas issued 42 disaster declarations so far this year.

While that's above normal, it does not approach the record 75 disaster declarations of 1996. By this date in 1996, there had been 63 disasters declared nationwide.

The Florida cleanup seemed to be progressing better than after Hurricane Andrew (searchin 1992, when waits of two weeks or more for checks left residents frustrated and drew sharp criticism of the federal emergency agency.

FEMA says it is getting assistance money delivered in three to four days this time for people with direct deposit, and seven to 10 days for paper checks.

Sen. Bob Graham visited the Port Charlotte area following Hurricane Charley (searchand came away with the impression that things were much improved, compared to Andrew, said Graham spokesman Paul Anderson.

But Anderson said there have been reports of some pockets in which people still lack electricity and other services following Frances.

Anderson noted that, to be prepared for the most recent storms, FEMA pre-positioned people and resources. It took four days to get the first FEMA workers and supplies into Florida following Andrew.

With a third storm possible, "we've raised the bar in terms the ability to respond to the demand from multiple disasters," he said.

FEMA said Tuesday it has received 353,716 claims for help from Florida residents battered by Hurricanes Charley and Frances (search).

FEMA said it had received 197,886 claims for damage from Hurricane Charley and 155,830 for Hurricane Frances.

Approved payments totaled $115,965,887 for Charley and $62,073,912 for Frances, according to spokeswoman Barbara Ellis.

Two weeks after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 FEMA had received 43,239 applications for help and had written 1,445 temporary housing checks totaling $3.1 million.

People who had damage from both storms can register for help under both disaster declarations, the agency said. It said people who already had sought help for damage last month from Charley, then had further damage this month from Frances, must file for additional aid.

Of the assistance approved so far for Hurricane Charley, $59 million was help in housing and $56 million was for other needs. For Frances, $44 million was approved for housing and $17 million for other needs.

While Florida continues to draw attention, the most recent disaster declaration came last Friday, affecting 15 counties in western North Carolina inundated by heavy rains from Frances. The Hurricane Frances disaster declaration for Florida had been in place for six days at that point.

A disaster related to Hurricane Charley was declared for Florida on Aug. 13. Rainfall from that storm led to a disaster declaration in parts of South Carolina on Sept. 1.

Two days later, rains from Tropical Storm Gaston led to a disaster declaration for parts of Virginia.

Also on Sept. 1, parts of Indiana were declared a disaster area due to tornadoes and flooding. On Aug. 26, disasters were declared in Nevada due to fire damage and in the Northern Mariana Islands due to a typhoon.

This year's first major disaster declaration came Jan. 13 with an earthquake in California. Other declarations have involved a landslide in Ohio, a winter storm in Oregon, an ice storm in South Carolina, a severe storm with flooding in North Dakota, and tornadoes in Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana.