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Clay directs attention to local tornado victims, deadline for federal help

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 25, 2011 - With all the attention now directed at the tornado-generated tragedy in Joplin, federal and local authorities are reminding victims of the St. Louis area's less-deadly April 22 tornado that they face a July 8 deadline for seeking federal help.

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, held an hour-long teleconference Tuesday night with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration, as well as several area mayors.

Also on the call were more than 9,600 area residents, many of them affected by the April 22 tornado that tore through at least eight communities in north St. Louis County, as well as Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Although no lives were lost, the tornado's destruction was the worst the region has experienced in 44 years.

Representatives for FEMA and the SBA explained the differences in the aid that the two agencies can provide and emphasized that the help can augment private insurance. The SBA, for example, can provide low-interest loans to homeowners, renters and businesses to cover the private-insurance deductibles.

FEMA does not cover deductibles but can provide grants of up to $30,200. Officials with both agencies emphasized to teleconference listeners that common applications should first be made to FEMA, then to the SBA.

Libby Turner with FEMA said the agency so far has collected close to 1,100 applications so far and approved $610,000 in aid. Mark Randall with the SBA said it had received 532 applications from homeowners and renters, and 88 businesses.

In both cases, the applications are far below the thousands expected to qualify.

Officials gave out two phone numbers for people inquiring about federal aid. The SBA can be contacted at 1-800-659-2955 FEMA can be contacted at 1-800-621-3362.

Clay said he hoped the teleconference would get the word out about the federal help available. Most of Tuesday night's questions came from people inquiring about downed limbs in their yard, damaged roofs and other specific issues.

"We were able to connect with thousands of our neighbors,'' Clay said, after fielding the last question.

Earlier, at the St. Louis County Council's regular meeting in Clayton, County Executive Charlie Dooley had emphasized the July 8 application deadline.

Bridgeton Mayor Conrad Bowers said his community saw 562 structures damaged, with about 10 percent now uninhabitable. The city has spent $2.5 million so far on cleanup, he said, carting off 2,500 truckloads of debris and filling 240 dumpsters.

Still, compared to Joplin, he is grateful. "For the grace of God, we saw no fatalities and no serious injuries,'' Bowers said.

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