FEMA arrives to assess damage

By Tonya Fennell: Freedom Newspapers

It could take up to a month to decide if Curry County government agencies and residents qualify for federal aid, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said.

FEMA officials arrived in New Mexico on Tuesday to assess the damage left by a string of tornadoes that devastated areas of Quay, Roosevelt and Curry counties on Friday.

“We (FEMA) will be talking to individuals and assessing damage to get an idea of how big this thing is,” FEMA Public Information Officer Kim Pease said.

At least 16 tornadoes swept through areas along the New Mexico-Texas border late Friday, damaging homes, roads and businesses, and snapping power lines.

State officials paired up with FEMA to try to determine how much it will cost to rebuild and if there is sufficient damage to qualify for a federal disaster. They will spend two days in Clovis and Curry County.

“They go house to house, business to business, street by street,” said state emergency management spokeswoman Carrie Moritomo.

FEMA may be able to provide temporary housing, repair, replacement and housing construction to qualified households, officials said.

The agency also can provide disaster-related medical costs, clothing, household items, cleanup items, damaged vehicles or other expenses.

Pease said the teams are divided into two groups — a public assistance group that assesses damage to schools, bridges and infrastructure, and an individual assistance group that focuses on residences.

The team will be using a “complicated formula” to determine if area residents are eligible for FEMA funding, Pease said.

“Total amount of destruction and population will be two factors in determining funding,” Pease said.

U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who flew into Clovis to accompany the FEMA team, said he is familiar with FEMA’s criteria.

“I believe we have a strong case here,” Udall said.

FEMA officials said they plan to be finished by Thursday morning and the completed report will be sent to regional headquarters in Denton, Texas, before landing in Washington, D.C., where the final decision on funding will be made.

Gov. Bill Richardson requested the preliminary damage assessment. Richardson signed an executive order freeing up $750,000 in state emergency funds, which will be used to pay for first responder overtime and equipment, according to Ken De Los Santos, Clovis/Curry County Emergency Management Director.

For residents who do not qualify for FEMA funding, low interest loans are available, according to Mike Elliott with the Small Business Association. Elliott said he planned to tour with the FEMA teams to “eyeball each site.”

“Where FEMA leaves off,” Elliott said, “we (SBA) pick up.”

The storms claimed the life of one Curry County resident.

Heleneta Blevins, 90, died early Tuesday morning from her injuries sustained during the tornado.

About 35 injuries were reported, with 500 buildings sustaining damage in Clovis, officials have said.

A Roosevelt County dairy, where about 175 cattle were killed, sustained heavy damage.

About 30 homes were destroyed in Logan.

Meanwhile, the massive cleanup efforts continue.

Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said the cleanup effort is 35 percent complete.

“The landfill has received over 700 tons of debris,” he said.

Officials with the Clovis Police Department and Clovis Fire Department reported their departments have returned to normal operations.

And the National Guard withdrew from the area Tuesday to return its trucks to the armory in Roswell.

De Los Santos said gusty winds today could hamper restoration efforts.
Salvation Army Capt. Tammy Ray said 180 people, displaced by the tornado, were still being sheltered at hotels.

“We have had to give notice to them to find other accommodations,” she said. “So, hopefully they can find family or friends to stay with.”

At a glance

• The Salvation Army is asking that all households whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Friday’s tornado go to the Curry County Fairground to complete a pink form.
The form will give the Salvation Army information regarding their households needs.

• New Mexico Bank & Trust is establishing a Disaster Assistance Fund for victims of the eastern New Mexico tornadoes at its bank branches in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Clovis.

• Triangle Ace Hardware in Clovis is offering discounts for homeowners buying repair products.
Buyers must have registered with the Salvation Army or Red Cross and be able to provide proof of address.
Information: 762-3301.

• To help the victims of local, national and international disasters, cash contributions can be sent to the Mid-Rio Grande Chapter of the American Red Cross, 142 Monroe, NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87108, or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C., 20013.
Internet users can make a secure online credit card contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.

• U.S. 70 between Clovis and Portales will be closed during daylight hours until further notice to aid the cleanup of the area of south Clovis, according to State Police.
Travelers are strongly urged not to attempt to enter this area unless they have specific business in that part of town.
Detours are in place to allow travel south to Portales.
Information: City Hall at 769-7828.

• The Postal Service Office in Clovis, Portales and Tucumcari will be conducting a Food Drive on Saturday to help the Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico and tornado victims.
Place non-perishable items next to your mailbox before postal workers deliver the mail.
Information: Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico at 763-6130.

• All recovered pets found by city of Clovis staff will be held at the Clovis Animal Shelter for up to two weeks.
Donations are being accepted toward extending the stay of recovered animals. Information: 769-7893.

• Licensed electricians and plumbers are needed to help reconnect tornado-damaged homes.
Information: United Way of Eastern New Mexico at 769-2103.

• To donate to the local relief effort visit the Salvation Army, 301 E. Second St., the American Red Cross, 108
W. Second St. or United Way, 215 N. Main.
To donate online got to www.unitedwayenm.org and click on “donate — tornado relief.”

• Those interested in volunteering with the American Red Cross as caseworkers can attend a training session from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at the Fairfield Inn and Suites, 4305 N. Prince.
There are 20 slots open at this time.
Individuals must register with the Red Cross by calling 763-4129.

• All groups active in the response to this disaster (or would like to be) are urged to attend an interagency meeting at 11 a.m. Friday at the Clovis Chamber of Commerce Boardroom.

— Compiled by Freedom Newspapers