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NY residents face storm costs

New York state residents still don't know if they'll get federal aid after last week's snowstorm but many of them certainly know about unexpected expenses.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | October 20, 2006

New York state residents still don't know if they'll get federal aid after last week's snowstorm but many of them already know about unexpected expenses.

Faith-based and voluntary organizations are not only helping residents start their recovery, but they also are tallying damages they hope may lead to federal individual assistance grants for people in need.

In the wake of several feet of snow, hundreds of residents faced extended power outages. Then, as the snow melted rather quickly, others were coping with basement flooding. Damages range from trees that fell on roofs to several feet of floodwater inside of homes.

Some people are coping with the expense of replacing ruined furnaces or hot water heaters. Many others are finding out that power companies will reattach power lines to houses - but not if detachment was caused by falling limbs. In that case, the homeowner is responsible for reconnecting, which can run anywhere from $500 to $2,000.

That's an extra expense many families simply can't swing, said Church World Service (CWS) Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison Joann Hale. "People that live on the financial edge who need to rewire their house - at that point it might be heat or eat."

Already, local food banks have been helping families with meals.

Even though the city of Buffalo has been getting the most media attention, outlying areas sustained damage as well, said responders. Numbers are still being tallied - and those numbers will be important for federal officials to make the decision of whether the area will be designated as a federal disaster with individual assistance grants.

If the area receives disaster declaration for public assistance, then communities will receive money to repair roads, bridges and other infrastructure. If a declaration for individual assistance is made, people can then receive grants, become eligible for loans, and get access to other aid, said a federal official. "It means a great deal," he said. "All declarations are pending, and they do want to try to make this decision fairly quickly."

Faith-based groups such as CWS, The Salvation Army and the United Methodist Committee on Relief have been sending cleanup kits to the area. Groups have also been dispatching mobile canteens. The Southern Baptists deployed crews with chain-saws to help people clear debris.

Federal officials were urging faith-based groups to tally the needs they are seeing so that they can take into account these numbers as declaration decisions are made.

Faith-based groups will meet next week to continue discussing a coordinated response, reported Hale. Among other things, they will talk over the possibility of bringing in volunteer teams from outside the area.

CWS and other members of the New York State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster have been discussing needs, assessing damages, and regularly sharing their findings with each other and with state and federal officials.

The United Way of Buffalo & Erie County announced grants totaling $145,000 to five area organizations to help battle unexpected expenses arising from the storm.

Grants were made to local offices of agencies whose resources have been taxed by the storm including the Western New York Food Bank, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Buffalo City Mission, and American Red Cross.

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