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Help grows in Fort Worth


FORT WORTH, TX (April 10, 2000) -- President Clinton declared tornado-stricken Tarrant County a major disaster area this past weekend, allowing River Oaks, Forth Worth, Arlington, and Grand Prairie to recover some of their losses, which are estimated to reach up to $15 million. This declaration also will help individuals recover an estimated $1.5 million in uncovered costs by making federal emergency loans and grants available immediately to residents and businesses.

The grant will be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Faith-based relief organizations will take on the role of meeting needs unmet by FEMA assistance. Five people were killed in the March 28 storms, which included two tornadoes 30 minutes apart. Dozens were injured as the twisters swept through River Oaks, Fort Worth, Arlington, and Grand Prairie.

The storms devastated downtown Fort Worth, which was still closed today. The storms caused an estimated $450 million in damage. Countywide, 171 homes were destroyed and at least 1,500 sustained minor to extensive damage. Clinton's declaration came within 24 hours after Gov. George W. Bush filed the disaster request. Immediately after the president's action, FEMA Director James Lee Witt opened offices in Fort Worth.

Witt said the Fort Worth FEMA office would be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily until further notice. The assistance, to be coordinated by FEMA, can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, minor home repairs, and other serious disaster-related expenses. Low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration also will be available to cover residential and business losses not fully covered by insurance. Witt said federal funds will be provided for the state and affected local governments to pay 75 percent of the eligible cost for debris removal, emergency services related to the disaster, and restoring damaged public facilities.

The declaration makes cost-shared funding available to the state for approved projects that reduce disaster risks. FEMA also will provide for crisis counseling "to relieve grieving, stress, and mental health problems caused by the disaster or its aftermath." These short-term services are available through local mental health agencies and only to eligible survivors. Crisis counseling is also a form of assistance Church World Service (CWS) plans to give at this time, according to David Huffman of CWS. Huffman said, "most of the residential areas affected by the storm were in middle income neighborhoods where homeowners are insured."

The Tarrant County Area Council of Churches will not be having any special programs for tornado survivors, according to its director, the Rev. Ken McIntosh. He said the Tarrant County Disaster Response Team is doing an excellent job working with the American Red Cross to provide relief. The team also credentials pastors to do crisis counseling for survivors.

Needs of tornado survivors are being considered presently by FEMA, according to Rachel Sandifer, director of missions for the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church, who also represents the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). She said a FEMA-sponsored Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) area coordinating committee meets every other day to coordinate relief efforts. That 15-20 member group, which coordinates both government and private relief efforts, includes such organizations as UMCOR, Catholic Charities, Red Cross, and the Salvation Army.

"VOAD will meet the needs of survivors after FEMA and other federal agency help (has been exhausted)," Sandifer said. United Methodist volunteers have been involved with debris removal and pastoral counseling. United Methodist Volunteer in Mission teams will be needed over the next 6-12 months to assist those who are uninsured or under-insured to repair damage. Other UMCOR funds will be requested after assessments have been made.

The Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief of the Episcopal Church based in New York City has sent $25,000 in an emergency grant to the Diocese of Fort Worth. The money will be used for temporary housing for the elderly, according to spokeswoman Coleen Stevens-Porcher of the fund's office in New York City.

Area congregations are also supporting tornado survivors, including the First Baptist Church of Arlington, which took a special offering. Several area churches are opening their doors to congregations of damaged churches. The Midtown Church of Christ in Fort Worth has opened its doors to the Calvary Cathedral International's school. According to Calvary's Pastor Bob Nichols, the 3,000-member Calvary congregation sustained more than $10 million in damages when one of the two tornadoes destroyed its sanctuary and other parts of its facilities.

Calvary's prayer tower, which was staffed by volunteers 24 hours a day, was destroyed in the storm. Two women praying inside it when the tornado struck were uninjured. Volunteers now offer prayers from a nearby trailer. Nichols said several area church leaders have called him to offer assistance. First Christian Church was unable to use its building last weekend because of damage to nearby skyscrapers.

The Rev. Roy Martin, interim minister at First Church said worship services were being held at Robert Carr Chapel at Texas Christian University, south of downtown. In addition to FEMA and local organizations' relief, other federal agencies also are aiding tornado survivors. The Department of Veterans Affairs will provide insurance settlements and adjustments to home mortgages for veterans.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will allow certain casualty losses to be deducted on the current 1999 income tax return or through an immediate amendment to the previous year's return. The IRS also has extended the tax deadline to August 15 for tornado survivors. The Department of Labor offers disaster unemployment assistance and unemployment insurance benefits for qualified applicants affected by the storm. Also, the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association, through an agreement with FEMA, will provide free legal services for low-income people regarding cases that will produce a fee.

Posted April 10, 2000

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