Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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May 2, 2013

FEMA puts boots on the ground

Damage assessment team is in Kokomo.

The April 19 flood proved too much for Walt Raderstorf’s 94-year-old home, knocking the eastern foundation wall out from under the structure.

Wednesday, Raderstorf was contemplating estimates he’d received for fixing the damage, and the news wasn’t good.

“They say they want about $50,000, but I’ve about got the house paid off. I don’t know whether I should stay or not,” he said.

Outside his damaged home, a team of state and federal officials were surveying the flood damage, collecting data to help Indiana Gov. Mike Pence decide whether to request disaster assistance for Howard County.

Howard County Emergency Management Agency director Larry Smith, who was on hand to aid the survey, was hoping assistance comes quickly, in the form of flood mitigation funding to remove houses from the flood plain.

“I think the city and the county have come to the conclusion that if we’re going to do something, now is a good time to do it,” Smith said. “Not two or three years down the road, when this will have happened again and we’ll be seeing all of [the disaster assessment officials] again.”

On their tour, which started in the 600 block of Park Avenue, the team of officials representing the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Indiana Department of Homeland Security and federal Small Business Administration, were looking specifically for structural damage.

As one of them put it, “We’re not here to hear every flood horror story; we want to get in, get dirty and get out, and bring a report back to the president for a determination.”

First, Pence will have to request assistance, however, and to do that, he’ll need an accounting of the number of homes damaged or destroyed and the numbers of people displaced.

At his home at on Park, Anthony Marino was telling the damage assessment team how he plans to fortify his basement walls, to keep out the water the next time it floods.

When he moved in three years ago, he had the foresight to move the electric panel upstairs, which meant he was able to keep power in the house. But he lost his furnace, and he lost a basement full of memories from 37 years of marriage to his late wife.

It’s unclear how people like Marino and Raderstorf fit into the damage assessment guidelines FEMA uses. In addition to classifying flood-damaged homes into the minor, major and destroyed categories, they look at how the economic well-being of a community has been impacted, and they look at the income level of the flood victims.

They’ll also examine local resources used to care for the victims, 10 of whom were still in temporary housing at a local motel Wednesday.

According to Smith, 72 of those initially displaced were renters, and 47 were homeowners. All but a handful of the people living in the city’s most flood-prone areas fell into the low-to-moderate income category.

The FEMA officials Wednesday were planning to be in Kokomo until 7 p.m., and to come back today if need be. They were focusing on the hardest hit areas, including Park Avenue, the side streets leading down to Park, the Carter/Murden area off South Union Street, and the Carter/Elizabeth Street area near Waterworks Park.

When they’re finished, they’ll submit their joint findings to the governor’s office and, if Pence determines the extent of the damage is too much for local and state officials to deal with, he can request federal assistance from President Barack Obama.

It would then be Obama’s decision whether to grant federal assistance.

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com.

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