Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 13, 2013

Tough road to recovery

Area business owners affected by tornadoes disappointed by FEMA rejection

By Martin Slagter Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Regardless of any of the news Linda White and Toni Weideman received in the month since their business, Mid-Central Trophy, was demolished by a tornado on Nov. 17, Thursday was a happy day.

The co-owners moved their things into a new location at 4015 Webster St. less than a month after their old location of 16 years on Arnold Court suffered major damage, along with a number of other businesses in the plaza.

It hasn’t been an easy road back. Mid-Central Trophy has been producing about 50 percent of its normal output of trophies and plaques as their main source of revenue, a massive engraver, was under repair. They borrowed Internet access from their business neighbors and received help from other trophy and engraving business associates in maintaining their client base while they awaited word on what would be covered by insurance. But White and Weideman, like many Kokomo business owners, are thankful for the help they’ve received from their neighbors in the wake of the tornadoes.

“Kokomo Strong!” White said while moving materials into the new business.

“Yes we are!” Weideman answered immediately.

Staying strong became a little more difficult Wednesday for local business and home owners when the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Indiana’s request for a major disaster declaration in Howard County.

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security now has 30 days to submit its appeal in hopes of providing grants and low-interest loans for citizens and businesses in Howard County. In the meantime, White said, financial uncertainty remains, even as the business plans to reopen at its new location.

“When I think about the uncertainty of knowing what will be covered and what the bottom line will be with the insurance, it causes a lot of anxiety,” she said.

Indiana Department of Homeland Security Senior Public Information Officer John Erickson said the process of requesting FEMA funding began Dec. 4. IDHS performed an assessment using a list of damage classification criteria for homes and businesses provided by FEMA. Homes and businesses hit by the tornadoes were classified as destroyed, major damage, minor damage and affected.

After the IDHS gathered initial data, which was verified by local county and city officials, FEMA performed a joint preliminary damage assessment to make sure the numbers on both estimates matched. Erickson said FEMA’s final assessment determined that “the severity and magnitude of the damage was not great enough for federal assistance to be granted.”

During the appeal process, Erickson said, IDHS will expand its damage assessment to include other severely affected areas in neighboring counties.

“We want to do that as quickly as we can while also doing as thorough a job as we can,” he said. “The more damage we can document, the stronger the case we can make.”

Currently, the Indiana Voluntary Disaster Organizations Active in Disaster estimates $2.84 million will be needed in Howard County alone after a major disaster for individual assistance is declared.

The opportunity to receive federal funds, Erickson said, is contingent on whether the state wins its appeal.

The state reported there were 191 homes that sustained major damage, while 692 households were in need of assistance for temporary housing or replacement of items in their homes. An additional 709 individuals or families can no longer live in their homes due to damage, Erickson said.

Should the state lose its appeal, Erickson said, the IDHS has a state disaster relief fund that would become an option if federal funding is deemed unwarranted. The fund would include Small Business Administration loans that apply to both individuals and businesses.

While that process takes place, business owners continue to operate as normally as possible in temporary and new locations until their structures are repaired or rebuilt.

Moore Title and Escrow, which has served the Kokomo area for more than 100 years, moved its operation to 101 Sycamore St. after the tornado tore the roof off its building while pelting the siding with debris in a way President and Owner Dick Moore described as “someone taking a shotgun to it.”

Moore was discouraged by the news that Howard County had been turned down for FEMA funds. It may be another four months before his business can move back to its rebuilt location at 1215 E. Hoffer St.

“They don’t see what’s happened out here from Washington,” said Moore, who has been in the title business for 41 years. “When you see the devastation, how can they not provide some type of federal aid to help the people that have been affected by this? I’m glad Gov. Pence went ahead with the appeal and can hopefully get them to rethink things and find some funding for the people here.”

Moore said McKean Construction has estimated it will cost around $200,000 to put a new roof and siding on the building.

Moore was unsure whether insurance will cover the full extent of damage done to the building, which included a 30-foot section lost off the back and doors ripped off their casings.

A low interest loan, Moore said, would be greatly beneficial in helping get his business running at full speed.

“You don’t want something like this to happen and don’t think that it will until it does,” he said. “Now you’re looking at an expense you hadn’t anticipated. That’s the reason a low-interest loan would be something that we’d want and would help us survive. We’re making a comeback, but we’re still not back yet.”