FEMA truck

After a natural disaster, FEMA offers a program to reimburse individuals installing a storm shelter.

Lee County residents affected by the March 3 tornadoes or living in an area highly vulnerable to a disaster are eligible to apply for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s storm shelter grant.

“We have been notified that we will have an opportunity to apply for approximately $383,782 in FEMA (shelter) funding as a result of the March 3 tornadoes,” Lee County Emergency Management Agency director Kathy Carson said last week. “Anytime you have a major incident like this, there is some hazard mitigation funding that follows it.”

The Lee County Commission unanimously approved a letter of intent at its Tuesday meeting to request the use of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program from FEMA.

High vulnerability areas

“This shelter grant will pay up to $4,000 maximum or 75 percent, if the cost is lower, and the individual homeowner is responsible for the 25-percent match,” Carson said. “My recommendation is that we apply for these individual shelters, which are appropriate in a rural setting like this.”

As an example, Carson said a resident building a $12,000 shelter would receive a check for $4,000, and individuals building a cheaper shelter would have 75 percent of the cost reimbursed.

“People need to be really careful because you cannot start the shelter until you get a letter back (from FEMA),” Carson said. “They cannot install any shelter until they get that letter back saying they have the grant. We had people that went ahead, did that and wanted to get reimbursed for it. That won’t work. You have to wait to get the letter from FEMA.”

All Lee County residents can apply for the funding, but once the local EMA gathers all the applications, individuals residing in high vulnerability areas will have precedence in the federal program.

“My recommendation is the priority applicants be families and individuals in the highest areas of vulnerability identified in the 2018 Population Vulnerability analysis,” Carson said. “The tornado occurred in the areas of highest vulnerability in the county. It was Beauregard first, Smiths Station second and then, Beulah had the third highest vulnerability rating.”

Carson emphasized families and individuals afflicted by severe injuries, fatalities and demolished dwellings from the March 3 tornadoes have top priority to apply for FEMA’s shelter grant program as well.

‘Our biggest threat’

District 4 Commissioner Robert Ham recognized Carson’s effort to ensure impoverished families and individuals have an opportunity to be prepared for another disaster.

“In the area that the tornado went through, these are a lot of low-income families,” Ham said. “They don’t have $4,000 sitting around. A lot of us don’t have $4,000 sitting around, but Kathy has done a lot of work to make sure that can get covered. I would love to see this happen. We could help a lot of people down there.”

Observing the psychological impact as the commissioner assists residents in the cleanup, Ham said he hopes the county benefits from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

“These people are traumatized so much,” he said. “When I’m out there working and they see a black cloud coming up, they look up at the sky. A little wind comes up, and they get upset about it. Even being around trees because trees fell on them, and that bothers them too. This is something I hope we’ll do.”

Carson stressed each resident needs a storm shelter to avoid the traumatic loss of life experienced in the March 3 tornadoes.

“I hope this grant goes to those individuals that need this help,” she said. “Everybody needs to put an individual shelter on their property at their house. That’s our biggest threat. It’s something we’ve already seen do tremendous damage, injury and death in our community. If there’s a way someone can do it, don’t wait for this grant. Go ahead and put that shelter in.”

Carson said the county EMA will assist residents interested in the shelter grant program.

County residents can contact the local agency at (334) 749-8161 or visit its website at leecoema.com to gather more information on disaster assistance.

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