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Hawaii To Appeal Denial Of FEMA Storm Aid

By B.J. Reyes, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 29--The state plans to appeal a decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency denying a request for a major disaster declaration that would provide federal aid to assist in the recovery from damage inflicted by Tropical Storm Iselle.

"The state and the County of Hawaii are working together to gather sufficient additional informa- tion, including socioeconomic data, to justify a successful appeal," Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi said in a joint statement Thursday.

"In the meantime, county, state and other federal agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations, are providing support under their own authorities. The state also remains eligible for a declaration from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which will enable qualified individuals and businesses to receive low-interest loans for repairs."

FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate stated in a letter that damage from Iselle, which made landfall Aug. 8 near the Puna community of Hawaii island, "was not of such severity and magnitude to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments, and voluntary agencies. Accordingly, we have determined that supplemental assistance is not necessary."

Kenoi met Thursday with Abercrombie to discuss an appeal, which must be filed within 30 days.

"We knew it was going to be a very rigorous process, that it was going to require very detailed documentation and verification," Kenoi told reporters outside the governor's office. "Certainly we're disappointed today to hear that the disaster declaration was denied by FEMA, because the people of Puna need help."

The disaster declaration request sought Individual Assistance for households affected by the storm and Hazard Mitigation funds for use in statewide projects.

Kenoi said the application required an assessment of overall monetary damage and number of homes classified as suffering "major damage" or as "destroyed." He noted that application includes other criteria, such as trauma, community need and socio-economic impact.

"We believe Puna classifies under that criteria and so, thankfully, Gov. Abercrombie, who was already considering an appeal, is doing so, and for that we're just very appreciative," Kenoi said.

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He added that some individuals may qualify for additional help from other agencies, such as the Small Business Administration or Farm Service Bureau, and also private insurance.

Iselle's heavy rains and gusting winds toppled scores of trees and knocked out power to thousands of Puna area residents. Downed albizia trees made roads impassable, prompting the state Office of Elections to close two polling precincts during the Aug. 9 primary election.

As of Tuesday, about 1,600 Hawaiian Telcom customers in the Puna and Pahala area of the island remained without service, company spokeswoman Ann Nishida Fry said. Those customers were without landline phone or Internet service, or both, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

Service is expected to be restored for most by mid-September, but it could be longer for Nanawale Estates, Nishida Fry said.

"Nanawale was the most heavily impacted by the storm, and right now, we're assessing the best approach to restore service to customers," she said.

Hawaii previously received federal disaster aid under a major disaster declaration following severe storms that caused major flooding and damage in December 2008 and after the October 2006 Kiholo Earthquake on Hawaii island that caused damage and power outages statewide.


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