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Originally published December 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 18, 2008 at 8:53 PM

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Bush authorizes flood aid for individuals in Lewis and Grays Harbor counties

The Bush Administration today issued a wider emergency declaration for the two counties hit hardest by last week's floods. That clears the way...

Seattle Times chief political reporter

Applying for help

Flood victims in Lewis and Grays Harbor counties can begin applying for the aid by telephone today until 10 p.m. at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 800-462-7585 for the hearing or speech-impaired. Those numbers will be available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

Starting Monday, people can register online for aid at www.fema.gov. Those numbers will be available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

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The Bush Administration today issued a wider emergency declaration for the two counties hit hardest by last week's floods. That clears the way for the sort of financial aid that Gov. Christine Gregoire and other state leaders have been pushing for.

This afternoon FEMA Director R. David Paulison signed an order granting expanded aid to residents in Lewis and Grays Harbor counties.

With the new authorization, flood victims can apply for up to $28,800 in cash grants. The individual assistance is available to renters, homeowners, and businesses that suffered storm-related damage in Lewis or Grays Harbor counties.

Today's action also authorizes Gregoire to issue emergency unemployment benefits and food stamps.

"FEMA will continue to coordinate with federal and state agencies to assess needs for more federal aid to assist in response and recovery efforts," Paulison said in a statement.

Gregoire got word of the additional aid in a phone call from Paulison shortly after noon.

"I'll tell you what I told him, 'God bless you.' This is such a relief for all of those folks," Gregoire said.

"The first few days of a tragedy are about saving people's lives," she said. "Then when you're done with that, it just sets in, 'My life has been saved but my life has been turned upside down.' That brings high emotions and frustrations, and its getting more dramatic."

She said the FEMA crews in Lewis County determined that there was clearly enough damage and people displaced by the floods to warrant expanded assistance. A more detailed review of Grays Harbor County will happen today but the county is already covered by today's declaration.

The governor said that she and Paulison also talked about the likely need to expand individual assistance to other flooded counties in the state.

The emergency food stamps will be available to help people restock their homes. People told the governor yesterday that they had to throw everything out after floodwaters rushed through their kitchens.

In addition to the federal aid, the state has also issued a contract to collect and dispose of dead livestock. The state Department of Ecology has personnel in the flood areas because of hazardous waste and oil spills. And after hearing from House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, yesterday, Gregoire is trying to help get more engineers, electricians and other skilled workers into the flooded areas.

Saturday, President Bush issued a limited emergency declaration as some of his top emergency and transportation officials were touring flood damage with Gregoire and Sen. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Congressman Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton. Carlos Castillo, FEMA's assistant administrator for disaster assistance, was on a helicopter with them yesterday and was urged at stops in Lewis and Grays Harbor counties to hurry approval of federal aid.

There were also FEMA teams on the ground in both places gathering information for the initial damage assessment needed before the more expansive disaster aid could be approved.

The Saturday declaration was for so-called public assistance. That frees up federal money for debris removal and any continuing emergency response needs.

But the individual assistance is what Gregoire has wanted. In Chehalis Saturday, she said Bush should act by Monday so flood victims would not have to wait any longer for help.

With the new authorization, flood victims can apply for up to $28,800 in cash grants. Today's action also authorizes Gregoire to issue emergency unemployment benefits and food stamps.

David Postman: 360-236-8267 or dpostman@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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