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W.Va. individual assistance request rejected

Dec. 13, 2012 @ 04:00 PM

CHARLESTON — The federal government has denied assistance for residents in six West Virginia counties hit by Superstorm Sandy, a spokeswoman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Thursday.

Tomblin had sought individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for residents of Fayette, Nicholas, Preston, Randolph, Tucker and Webster counties.

The October storm dumped more than 2 feet of snow in parts of the state, left seven people dead and knocked out electricity to more than a quarter-million customers, some for two weeks.

A few days after the storm, Black Hawk helicopters were sent up over some mountainous areas to get a better sense of how many people were cut off from the outside world by fallen trees, downed power lines and heavy snow.

But based on preliminary assessments done by the state, damage to homes in the six counties “is not of the severity and magnitude as to warrant the implementation of the Individual Assistance program,” Elizabeth A. Zimmerman, deputy associate administrator of FEMA’s Office of Response and Recovery, said in a letter to Tomblin.

The state has 30 days to appeal. Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said Thursday that state officials plan to appeal and have been gathering additional materials for FEMA.

Greg Messenger, who lives near Terra Alta in Preston County, didn’t sustain serious damage to his home, but many people he knew lost outbuildings.

“It was mainly the inconvenience for me, personally,” he said.

Immediately after the storm, it took Messenger six hours to travel a half-mile from his home to a main road. Messenger’s home lost electricity for 16 days and didn’t get phone service restored until last week, more than month after the storm.

“I’m not really surprised,” about FEMA’s denial of individual assistance, Messenger said. “Upset, but not surprised. I don’t think they look at the rural areas much anymore.”

Last month President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration to help local governments and certain nonprofit groups in 18 counties recover from Sandy-related damage.

In the letter to Tomblin, Zimmerman said FEMA denied public assistance for infrastructure damage in Grant, Greenbrier and Summers counties.

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