Bush declares disaster area after flooding

RENO — President Bush declared part of Northern Nevada a national disaster area Tuesday, making federal relief available to victims of flooding that damaged hundreds of homes.

Bush signed the disaster declaration as building inspectors went door to door in the town of Fernley to assess millions of dollars of damage from the flood caused by a break in a century-old irrigation canal early Saturday about 30 miles east of Reno.

The declaration makes available federal assistance including grants for temporary housing and home repairs, the White House press office said.

It also can be used to make low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the disaster.

Gov. Jim Gibbons declared the area a disaster on Saturday. His request to the White House for the national declaration included initial repair and cleanup estimates approaching $4 million, and indicated that follow-up assessments could push that total higher.

Gibbons praised Bush for his prompt response.

“This federal funding will begin providing immediate assistance to Fernley residents whose homes sustained damage during the flood,” he said.

R. David Paulison, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, named Michael L. Karl as the federal coordinating officer for the federal recovery operations in the area. The White House said FEMA may issue additional disaster designations if requested by the state and warranted by further damage estimates.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff pledged assistance to Nevada’s flood victims during a telephone call Tuesday afternoon.

“I greatly appreciate Secretary Chertoff taking the time to personally call me and promise that the people of Fernley will get everything they need in the wake of the levee break,” Reid said.

As floodwaters continued to drain in the fast-growing community 30 miles east of Reno, cleanup efforts from the weekend levee rupture were ongoing.

Gary Bacock, Fernley city manager, said water in the hardest hit areas was down to curb high — a big improvement but little consolation to residents who awoke early Saturday to find water gushing into their homes before dawn.

“It’s really in the street, probably right at the curb,” Bacock said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “The higher profile vehicles can go through very easily. Lower profile vehicles, you may or may not want to go through there.”

Water collected 8 feet deep in some areas after a large swath of the earthen levee gave way and a 2-foot wave of water swamped the neighborhood. More than a dozen residents were rescued by helicopter from rooftops, while others were taken to safety by boats.

The canal is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation but managed by the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.

During a meeting with residents Monday night, Jeff Page, Lyon County’s emergency services director, said that association will make it difficult to determine liability.

“So that’s going to be an issue, who is responsible for what, and that’s an answer I don’t know,” Page said. “Hopefully when it comes time to fund it they will look at that it’s a federal property and that will help push the directive to get done.”

The White House said in addition to the disaster grants, funding will be available to the state and eligible local governments as well as some private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the flood.

Bacock said teams of building inspectors, including volunteers from nearby counties and cities and as far away as Las Vegas, were doing a methodical assessment of nearly 600 homes to determine whether they were safe.

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