The Washington Post
Officials could not put a dollar figure on the damage caused by Hurricane Isabel last week, but one thing was clear.
"We are definitely going to need federal money," said St. Mary's County Administrator George Forrest.
On Friday afternoon, local officials got assurances that federal money would come when President Bush declared Maryland a federal disaster area, clearing the way for millions in aid to reimburse governments and residents for their losses.
U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said the Federal Emergency Management Agency already had set up a state headquarters in Baltimore County and would be surveying Southern Maryland this weekend.
"This hurricane produced enormous damage," Hoyer said. "The area needs immediate attention and aid."
In anticipation of the funds, county governments had begun documenting the region's losses hours before Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) asked Bush to make a disaster declaration. On Friday morning, damage assessment teams made up of county employees took pickup trucks to flooded areas to record the extent of damage to homes and county infrastructure, officials said.
The information will be provided to FEMA, which will use it to determine how much money to give local governments. Some money will reimburse local governments for overtime and damage, and a lesser amount can be used for measures designed to prevent damage in future disasters, according to FEMA.
Charles Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large) said the cleanup may cost his county about $20,000 a day. He said the county likely would have to bear more of the cost of this cleanup effort than it did for the cleanup from last year's tornado.
"The homeowners are going to have to bear some of the responsibility" as well, Levy said. But, he added: "Our people are hurt again. And we've got to be there for them."
Residents can apply for federal aid by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362). Individuals can receive more than $20,000 in grants, but the average award is about $2,000, and most aid goes to those without adequate insurance, officials said. Most federal money comes in the form of U.S. Small Business Administration loans.
Low-interest loans are also available to business owners and farmers who suffered damage.
Before touring flooded areas in St. Mary's County Friday, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) said federal aid will be especially helpful in Southern Maryland because so many homes were unexpectedly flooded.
"A lot of those homes are not in the traditional flood plain, and a lot of homeowners are not going to have flood insurance," Steele said.
One such resident was Susie Brown, 47, whose home in the Tall Timbers community on the Potomac in St. Mary's County was filled with more than three feet of water Thursday night. Boulders, pieces of wooden piers and tree limbs lay strewn about her soggy front yard.
"A lot of people are going to have the same problem we do: no flood insurance," Brown said. "Everybody will have to pitch in and help each other out."