Published Online: May 14, 1997

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In N.D. and Elsewhere, When Crisis Strikes Schools, FEMA Responds

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Washington

Although it has been weeks since the state of North Dakota was declared a federal disaster area, school officials there are just beginning to assess their flood-related damages and file for federal aid.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, best known for its assistance to individual victims of disasters, also offers a package of relief for schools and other local government facilities.

Typically, the federal government will pay 75 percent of repair costs for schools damaged in natural disasters, according to a spokesman for the agency. State and local governments are required to pick up the rest of the tab.

This has been a year of devastating floods, with swollen rivers overflowing their banks in Oregon, California, and states bordering the Ohio River. But the plight of North Dakota and its neighbors, where late March and early April torrents left damages that could total in the hundreds of millions has riveted the nation.

"It looks like this disaster is going to be the largest that [FEMA has] worked on this year," said Brett Hansard, a spokesman for the FEMA regional field office in Bismarck, N.D.

Starting the Clean-Up

Workers will start clean-up in North Dakota as soon as areas can be safely reoccupied.

Then, FEMA will set up a field office and the agency will hold briefings across the state for school and local government officials to explain how the disaster-relief process works, and to help local officials fill out formal applications for federal assistance.

In North Dakota, which was declared a disaster area on April 7, FEMA workers will begin holding meetings later this month, Mr. Hansard said.

Last week, agency officials were unable to estimate the damages to school districts there, or in neighboring Minnesota and South Dakota, which were also hit by the floods.

FEMA has not given North Dakota's districts any time frame for when they might receive aid, Mr. Hansard said.

Usually, the agency's first priority is finding emergency housing and assessing damages to homes, making minimal repairs to them where the agency can, he added.

Typically, once a school district has applied for aid, a team of experts, including FEMA, state, and local engineers, assesses the damaged buildings and writes a damage-survey report.

From there, a district's application is entered into FEMA's database for aid calculations, and the agency awards money to the appropriate state government, which passes it to the local district within a few weeks.

The amount of time the process takes from start to finish varies depending on the disaster, according to FEMA.

The agency has already provided North Dakota with $470,000 for repairs to two University of North Dakota campuses and Mayville State University.

But it will be at least a few more weeks, after the application process has been completed, before elementary and secondary schools will see any federal repair dollars, Mr. Hansard said.

Web Only

Web Resources
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Web site includes about a dozen maps that show the extent of flooding throughout North Dakota and Minnesota.

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