1st Storm Damage Assessment Finished

Federal officials have completed a preliminary assessment of storm-damaged public property in Ventura County, but said Tuesday that it will be months before they issue checks to reimburse agencies affected by the storm.

Now that the initial assessment is done, county and city workers must itemize damage to public buildings, schools and land before they can receive aid made available after the March 10 storm. But many are still tallying damage from January flooding.

"This has been an unusual situation where you have disasters back-to-back," said Lynne Keating, spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "We're trying to be as expedient as possible."

FEMA, which provides federal money to disaster victims, has received funding requests from 15 agencies in the county after the January storm and 22 after the March storm. Many of the agencies are going ahead with repairs, despite the delay in reimbursement.

County workers have already spent more than $100,000 diverting the Ventura River away from houses in the Ojai Valley after the January storm. County officials said more money will be needed to build a new levee to permanently protect the houses in Live Oak and clear silt from debris basins that catch flood runoff.

County officials last week said that cracked roadways, ruptured pipelines and damaged crops will cost millions of dollars.

Keating said FEMA concentrates first on health and safety and later funds general repairs.

"When things need to be done, we know that cities and counties go ahead and make the repairs," she said. "They can't wait for the bureaucracy."

Federal officials said about 80% of the FEMA money allocated to Ventura County will fund repairs to structures and roads damaged during the January storm. The other 20% will go toward March storm damage.

Meanwhile, FEMA outreach teams are walking pockets of the county this week, telling residents how to apply for individual assistance. So far, 214 residents have applied for federal funds from the March storm, while 1,514 residents applied in January.

Residents can register by phone by calling (800) 462-9029. Keating said FEMA will not take applications in person.

"We decided that early because of the widespread nature of the floods," she said. "Also, those who can't get to us don't have to worry about transportation."

Registration deadline for victims of the March storm is May 10.

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