$73.9 Million in Aid Provided to Victims So Far, U.S. Says

Times Staff Writer

Federal officials said Wednesday that they have provided $73.9 million in assistance so far in the aftermath of the Southern California wildfires. They also urged mountain residents to purchase flood insurance before the rains arrive.

Dean Cushman, a FEMA spokesman, said the agency has approved $15.6 million for housing, transportation and medical needs. The Small Business Administration has approved $58.3 million in disaster loans.

Officials have estimated that insurance payouts for the wildfires may total $3 billion. The federal assistance accumulates slowly because it often follows insurance settlements.

Michael Brown, national head of FEMA, has emphasized that hills in fire-stricken areas, where vegetation was burned away, could experience serious floods during rainy season.

He has been cautioning residents that, under federal rules, flood insurance does not usually take effect until 30 days after it is purchased, so it is important that the insurance is purchased as quickly as possible.

Cushman said Wednesday that FEMA will release flood hazard maps on its Web site early next week. The maps are designed to show which areas of the fire zone are most susceptible to flooding and mudslides.

FEMA's toll-free phone number for flood insurance information is (800) 427-4661.

At recent hearings near fire zones in San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties, Ray Lenaburg, a civil engineer with FEMA, said flood insurance will not be denied to anyone who wants it.

He stressed that typical homeowner policies do not include coverage for floods, although the flood insurance can be purchased through one's regular insurer.

Lenaburg said that lenders for home purchases often require flood insurance and that in such situations it can be obtained without the customary 30-day waiting period.

"Walls, roofs, contents are covered, including buildings under construction," he said.

The cost of the coverage varies depending on FEMA's maps that show degrees of hazard, but the average homeowner pays about $400 a year. Renters can obtain a restricted policy for about $100 a year.

Sandbags have already been placed in San Bernardino's Del Rosa neighborhood against the possibilities of floods coming in from denuded hillsides.

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