Storm recovery focus of new NC legislative panel

May 9, 2011 8:19:36 PM PDT
Federal and North Carolina emergency officials say they're trying to get the word out about government assistance available to people whose homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by last month's tornadoes.

Michael Bolch with the Federal Emergency Management Agency told lawmakers about recovery efforts during Monday's first meeting of a legislative panel examining whether more needs to be done to help storm victims. The tornadoes killed 24 people and seriously injured more than 130.

The panel is comprised of Democrats and Republicans from the hardest hit areas in the state.

During the meeting, they received booklets that outline the extent of the storm damage.

"We want to look, look at [and] assess the damage and move forward legislation that can assist the state of North Carolina in any way," Republican Lee County Representative Michael Stone.

Stone co-chairs the newly formed committee on tornado damage response. He's one of about a dozen legislators who listened as Bolch reviewed the details of the deadly tornadoes.

"It seems like response is going well in some areas," Stone said. "The good thing about bringing the legislators today here together is we'll get more feedback from all those communities."

Bolch said about $6.5 million in grants and low-interest loans have been offered so far to displaced residents and business owners.

It still remains to be seen if more funding is needed to help storm survivors. If so, where will that money come from?

Representative Stone is optimistic.

"I think there will be many opportunities to look at potential aid for the state of North Carolina," he said.

Legislators say they're worried many people are turning away from assistance because they qualify for loans, not grants. Bolch said FEMA can't force anyone to receive assistance.

The next step for the legislators is to go back to their districts and find out if the needs of their constituents are being met.

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