Bush approves disaster relief for two counties on Eastern Shore

Caroline and Dorchester to receive FEMA recovery aid


President Bush granted federal disaster aid yesterday to two Eastern Shore counties for cleanup and repair after last week's torrential rainfall caused as much as $10 million in damage.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. requested the aid in a letter to the president Friday for the five counties he deemed had sustained the most damage from the severe storms: Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Harford and Montgomery. Bush approved the aid for Caroline and Dorchester.

"Obviously the governor is pleased that the federal government responded to his request," said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell. "This is an important step toward helping to rebuild property and infrastructure in the affected areas."

Fawell said the governor might request additional aid in coming days. Ehrlich estimated the total cost might exceed $10 million.

A spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which distributes the money to the state and local municipalities, said the aid was granted based on a joint preliminary damage assessment conducted by federal, state and local authorities, and that more money might become available based on further evaluation. FEMA reimburses the state, counties and municipalities 75 percent of their recovery costs.

Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, called the funding "vital" for the two rural counties, with their relatively modest tax bases.

"We're still working with counties around the state to assess the damage," McDonough said. "The numbers that we sent to FEMA last week were very preliminary numbers. We're still in the process of assessing the damage and tallying up the figures for those areas."

The storm, which caused six deaths in the state, brought rainfall of up to 13 inches in some areas and caused extensive flooding. In Montgomery County, thousands of residents were temporarily evacuated from their homes because of leaks in a dam at Lake Needwood.

Effie M. Elzey, a member of the Dorchester County Council, said last night that the storm heavily damaged several roads and much of the soybean crop there. She said reallocating funds already designated for other projects from the county's budget will be a challenge.

"The added money coming from the federal government will be a big help," Elzey said. "But you have to see the roads to understand. It's like 40-foot-wide holes. It looks like a bomb hit the road. When you look at it, you think, `How could water do all this damage?' It's just amazing."

The entire state was approved for hazard mitigation assistance, which covers upgrades for outdated structures such as low bridges and roads with small culverts, or streambed improvements.

Ehrlich has also requested disaster loans from the federal Small Business Administration that would help business and residential property owners repair or rebuild damaged structures.

The last time the state received federal disaster funding was in 2003, after Tropical Storm Isabel.


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