The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 10, 2012

Rahall steps up disaster declaration

Back-to-back storms that plunged thousands of West Virginians back into darkness a week after the horrendous derecho roared through prompted Rep. Nick Rahall to step up his effort Monday for a disaster declaration by the White House so individuals and businesses can get help.

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides loans and grants to cover the uninsured needs of individuals, communities and businesses, no relief is possible until the president issues a major disaster declaration.

As the second week dawned since the furious windstorm rumbled across the state June 29, a fresh round of thunderstorms struck, intensifying West Virginians’ struggles to get water, food and medications. About 20,000 households were thrown into darkness and silence again Sunday night.

“Homes and businesses may still be in the dark, but it’s not hard to see that tight family budgets have suffered big hits,” Rahall, D-W.Va., said.

Rahall said he personally took up the matter with President Barack Obama and leading FEMA authorities in seeking “the full range” of assistance.

No such declaration can come from the president, however, until a request is made by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. In taking that first step, the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management today planned to start assessing the damage from widespread power outages.

Rahall is the ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees FEMA. Besides the widespread damage and losses, Rahall said the president needs to consider the lingering heat wave, in a state heavily populated by the elderly and those on fixed incomes.

“There may not have been as extensive physical damage to homes, businesses and public infrastructure as in other disasters West Virginians have endured, but there were still significant financial losses and costs incurred by our residents, businesses and whole communities because of the power outages, and those costs are widespread,” the 3rd District congressman said.

Last Thursday, Rahall met before sunup with Appalachian Power Co. crews to view sites where downed lines were under repair and saluted their efforts in battling fallen trees, brush and intense heat, not to mention the frequent barbs hurled by the impatient.

“Even though you may get complaints out on the job, people yelling in your faces, please know we all do appreciate what you’re doing,” Rahall told the workers.

Later that day, Rahall help-ed the PGA TOUR wives distribute bottled water to stricken families in Greenbrier County.

“We owe a heap of gratitude and tremendous thanks to The Salvation Army, our local churches and their pastors, and countless number of volunteers who selfishly gave their time and resources to help mitigate the suffering of so many,” he said.

Rahall said he advised Obama that a formal request for a disaster declaration is likely to be made very soon.

“I also urged the president and top FEMA officials to keep in mind that this was a unique occurrence that may not neatly fall into the scenarios envisioned by the Stafford Act,” he said, referring to the law via which loans and grants are administered in emergencies.

“For so many to lose power during such extreme heat and to be without power for so long, especially for those on fixed incomes, who have little or no money to buy food, supplies, or even ice, even when it could be found, that warrants special attention.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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