East Texas Has A Long Way To Go For Disaster Relief - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

11/21/05 - Woodville

East Texas Has A Long Way To Go For Disaster Relief

by Ramonica R. Jones

About 2,000 hurricane evacuees are still living in storm-wrecked Jasper County. They're scattered throughout the area in shelters and motels. DETCOG is having a hard time finding them a more permanent place to live.

DETCOG director, Walter Diggles, said, "Not only do we have the tremendous task of trying to match these families with adequate housing, but we also have to provide them with the essentials - furniture, food, and clothing - so, it's kind of a case management approach to providing the assistance that they need."

Tyler County Hospital treated close to a thousand storm victims after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but they have no idea when they'll get their money because FEMA changed the rules.

Hospital CEO, Sandra Jackson, said, "We understood that FEMA would reimburse us for the services that were provided, but we have been denied by FEMA and told we have to go back to those individuals and try to collect the money from them."

Educators may have an easier time getting reimbursed for helping evacuees. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's Senate Bill 1761 passed in September. If the bill passes in the House, $60 billion will go to schools for refurbishing facilities, teachers, and textbooks.

"We would be able to start paying for the extra teachers that had to be hired to deal with Katrina evacuees' children and we need to reimburse the school districts because they have not been reimbursed at all," Senator Hutchison said.

It could take several years before Tyler, Jasper, Newton, and Polk counties completely recover from the hurricanes. Those areas aren't done with debris cleanup, but even the guys who clean up can't seem to get paid.

"We've been told that after the 34 day cut off, FEMA will not pay a hundred percent to the county," said NAPCO president, Lonnie Grissom. "Our contract [to clean up storm debris] is with the county, but the county, because they've gone with a private contractor, will not be reimbursed a hundred percent of the cost."

Senator Hutchison said she'll take Tyler County's concerns to FEMA and try to get federal leaders to pay up.

Tyler County and city leaders said they walked away from Monday's meeting with positive feedback. They now have renewed faith that FEMA won't forget about them and the help they provided for thousands of storm victims.

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