Southeast tornadoes: Arkansas Democrats blast FEMA

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 16, 2007

Dallas County officials applaud agency’s efforts

By Deborah Goodwin

The Selma Times-Journal

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Arkansas Democrats have been heavily criticizing the way FEMA has responded following the violent storms that struck the state two weeks ago.

The Bush administration denied Arkansas’ request for a federal disaster declaration, while Alabama’s request was accepted.

Berry joined Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing exploring FEMA’s reaction to a series of storms and tornadoes that swept across the South and Midwest in late February and early March. The storms killed 20 people in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri, including eight students at Enterprise high school.

Beebe faulted FEMA for taking nearly two weeks to respond to his request for a disaster declaration that would have brought federal aid to his state’s storm victims and suggested the agency was being callous in its decision.

Berry, who worked in the Clinton administration, said people in Arkansas think the state was turned down because it largely votes Democratic. He asked to see communications between FEMA and the White House about how the decision was made.

FEMA Deputy Director Harvey Johnson denied that politics played a role and said the administration relied on federal criteria under the law in analyzing the states’ requests. Federal officials took so long to give Arkansas an answer because they were trying to find a way to “arrive at yes,” he said.

Local officials, however, have only expressed praises for the way FEMA has handled Dallas County.

Some citizens of the Five Points and Orville area either lost their homes or sustained damage to their homes.

Members of FEMA, Small Business Administration (SBA) and Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission Area Agency on Aging (ATRCAA), along with county agencies, have been working together to assist those affected by the tornado.

FEMA, SBA and ATRCAA have been assisting people to sign up for disaster relief funds at Orrville City Hall.

FEMA representatives have also visited local churches encouraging pastors to inform their flocks of the locations they could receive assistance.

Jim Sarkisian with FEMA Community Relations even came by the Dallas County Commission meeting on Monday to encourage people affected by the March 1 tornado to register for assistance.

Five Points resident Eugene Fail said FEMA inspectors had been out to his property and he was pleased with how quickly FEMA and Dallas County officials have reacted.

County Commissioner Clifford Hunter, as well as Commissioner Curtis Williams, were in the Orrville area on Tuesday speaking with McHugh, FEMA, SBA, ATRCAA and members of the community.

Both officials expressed their gratitude to all involved.

Anyone who has sustained any damage from the March 1 tornado can contact FEMA at 1-800-6213362, or Those with a speech or hearing impairment should call TTY 1-800-462-7585.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.