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Bush declares Hawai‘i disaster area

Kaua‘i will see millions in aid

By Ford Gunter – The Garden Island

President Bush signed a major disaster declaration for Hawai‘i yesterday, at the request of Gov. Linda Lingle

In a letter to Lingle, the president said individual assistance, public assistance and hazard mitigation will be provided to help deal with the damage resulting from severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides during the period of Feb. 20 to April 2.

Bush said the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency will “coordinate federal-assistance efforts and designate specific areas eligible for such assistance.”

According to a FEMA press release, affected individuals in Kaua‘i County and the City & County of Honolulu qualify.

The assistance, to be coordinated by FEMA, can include grants to cover temporary housing, repair, and other disaster-related expenses. State and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations could also receive money.

Federal funding will also be available statewide on a cost-sharing basis for hazard-mitigation measures.

Lingle requested the declaration three weeks ago, estimating that the flood damage would exceed $50 million.

“President Bush understands that, unlike many disasters which threaten people and property for a few hours or a few days, this was a prolonged disaster lasting nearly six weeks,” Lingle said in a press release yesterday

The declaration came a few hours after members of the U.S. Senate voted to uphold $6 million in emergency assistance for Hawai‘i sugar plantations. That money is part of a $33.5-million, disaster-relief package for Kaua‘i and other Hawaiian islands, and seems likely to increase with the way now paved for countless other entities to receive federal aid.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2006 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill to block the $6 million, arguing that Bush had not issued an emergency disaster declaration for Hawai‘i.

Before the president signed the declaration, members of the Senate voted 59-40 to reject the amendment.

“If McCain had prevailed, that would have been devastating news for us,” said E. Alan Kennett, president and manager of Gay & Robinson.

Before knowing Bush signed the declaration, Kennett expressed a need for more funds.

“(The $6 million) was vital to us,” he said. Kennett said he thought about $4.5 million was earmarked for Gay & Robinson, with the remainder to go to the state’s other sugar plantation, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar, on Maui.

“We figure we’ve got (damage) way in excess of that amount,” Kennett said of the $4.5 million. “We’re still assessing damages, and we won’t find out the extent until after the first crop.”

In a Tuesday press release, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawai‘i, estimated the two sugar companies will lose more than $14 million in crops alone over the next three years, and said “it will take more than $6 million to ensure the complete recovery” of both companies.

The 40 days of rain earlier this year washed out Westside cane-haul roads, tore up irrigation systems, and did an estimated $4 million in damage to the island’s sugar crop, said Kennett.

All told, he estimates damages to crop and infrastructure at between $8 million and $12 million, so the federal help is welcome relief. Kennett said he expects about $4 million in crop damage at Gay & Robinson this year, though he stressed the difficulty of predicting numbers in an industry dependent upon many variables.

Infrastructure damages to roads and irrigation systems could prove more costly than crop damage, he said.

“We’ve got 97.8 miles of roads, and all need some work,” Kennett said. “And that’s just the cane roads.”

Kennett said the road to the Koula Intake, one of the plantation’s two water sources, is completely washed out.

Kennett does not yet know the extent of infrastructure damage and how much it will cost to repair it, but said that, including crop losses, he believes the damage will amount to $8 million to $12 million.

• Ford Gunter, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or fgunter@kauaipubco.com.


Federal aid available for disaster recovery

Here is a brief look at some of the federal assistance available as a result of President Bush’s declaring parts of O‘ahu and Kaua‘i a federal disaster area:

Individuals

• Rental payments for temporary housing for up to three months;

• Grants for home repairs and replacement of damaged vital items not covered by insurance;

• Grants to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other aid;

• Unemployment payments of up to 26 weeks;

• Low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully covered by insurance, up to $200,000 for primary residence, $40,000 for personal property;

• Crisis counseling for trauma victims, income tax assistance, legal advisory assistance.

Businesses

• Low-interest loans up to $1.5 million for small businesses suffering from disaster-related, cash-flow problems and business property losses;

• Loans up to $500,000 for farmers, ranchers and aquaculture operators to cover production and property losses.

State, county governments

• Payment of 75 percent of the cost of repairing or replacing damaged public facilities, as well as to certain private, nonprofit organizations engaged in disaster-related, community-service activities;

• Payment of 75 percent of eligible costs for removing debris from public areas and measures taken to save lives and protect property and public health;

• Payment of 75 percent of the approved costs for hazard-mitigation projects to prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property from natural or technological disasters.

How to apply

Register online at www.fema.gov, or call toll-free 1-800-621-3362 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., local time, seven days a week. For the hearing- and speech-impaired, call toll-free 1-800-462-7585. Be prepared to provide basic information as well as insurance coverage information.

Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency

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