Friday, February 11, 2011
FEMA Team: We're here to support New Mexico
An emergency disaster assessment team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Regional office in Denton, Texas began working in New Mexico on Friday afternoon.
“We’re here to support New Mexico,” FEMA's spokesman Brad Craine told reporters who toured several damaged buildings with the team in downtown Albuquerque.
"The whole reason of coming in and doing a preliminary damage assessment is to simply find out just how much damage was done to the infrastructure," Craine said.
They found heavy industrial heater fans still churning inside the Bernalillo County District Court seven days after water caused damage to walls and carpet.
Across the street at the District Attorney's office, the team heard stories from employees who used personal hair dryers to recover documents ahead of trials and hearings on Monday.
“We literally walked across the street to District Court in some cases with wet, dripping papers that we needed to file” DA Spokesman Pat Davis said. No cases were affected by the flooding and resulting water damage according to Davis.
FEMA's team will focus primarily on publicly owned buildings and infrastructure in counties affected by the severe arctic weather that moved across the state last week causing water pipes to rupture and natural gas to stop flowing to thousands of customers. Craine said individuals and private businesses will have to prove significant losses before they can get relief from FEMA.
He encouraged them to work with their insurance companies and file expedited claims with the New Mexico Gas Company.
After their work on the ground, the team will file their findings with Gov. Susana Martinez, who can then request a declaration. Only then will recommendations for assistance be made to the White House, where President Obama will make the final determination on what financial aid will be given to the state.
On Saturday, the FEMA team will head north to Santa Fe, Espanola, Taos and Questa.
Insurance Companies Warned
New Mexico State Insurance Superintendent John Franchini has issued a directive to all insurance companies warning them not to cancel, refuse to renew, or raise customer policies.
Current statutes forbid them to make any changes following a natural disaster.
“We are advising all insurance companies that we do not expect policyholders to receive any type of premium increase due to claims filed as the result of the severe winter weather or natural gas outages,” Franchini said. “We will personally review any premium or rate increase a New Mexico policyholder sustains to ensure that the increase is fair, not based upon a natural disaster claim and conforms to current State regulations and guidelines.
While the gas company is processing individual claims, state and federal agencies are still determining how to assist employees who lost wages and businesses who lost sales after having to temporarily shut down.
Many of the assistance programs previously in place, outside of the funds established by New Mexico Gas Company, are programs that have income or amount-of-loss thresholds.
For instance, State of New Mexico Human Services Department has LIHEAP, can often help with heating issues based on an income threshold. Information here.
The Small Business Administration has programs to assist merchants.
In order to qualify for FEMA assistance the team will have to determine more than $2.4 million in losses was incurred statewide before New Mexico can receive recovery reimbursements.
Some state funding has been allocated to the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority (MFA) to help income-qualifying customers with these needed repairs on their natural gas-burning appliances, as well as with weatherization services. Assistance applications are available online.
Terry Brunner, USDA Representative, said grants and low interest housing and business loans may be available for home repair and upgrades, but will depend on income levels.
Water utilities assistance is available to repair broken water lines.
Grants are available to repair or upgrade community buildings or services.
The Rural Energy Program offers rebates for energy efficiency upgrades. USDA also offers assistance in cases of crop and livestock weather-related losses.
Frank Padilla, a Housing and Urban Development representative said a total of $200,000 has been made available for immediate assistance for emergency repairs, but must be distributed through local government. And, vouchers are available for residents of uninhabitable homes to stay at a motel for up to 3 weeks.
There is a home program for more extensive repairs through the Mortgage Finance Authority and the NM Energy Smart program can provide assessments and energy efficient upgrade rebates.
The Small Business Administration reported it is only offering its normal services, but continue to assess the situation in New Mexico.
New Mexico Gas Company claims can me made online here.