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FEMA Aid: What needs to happen for Alabama flood victims to get federal assistance?

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Floods have forced a lot of people from their homes in north Alabama. Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t let up long enough for officials to give them a clear picture of what help they might be able to get.

We got Art Faulkner, the state emergency management director, on the phone this morning to ask what’s next for people who have major flooding damage.

His main message – “People need to be patient. That’s the one word that I would strive to say is, be patient.”

Faulkner echoes what homeowners in this situation surely know, “This is not going to be a quick fix.”

Many homeowners don’t live in flood plains, so they don’t have flood insurance. Without federal aid, they could wind up without any assistance at all.

However, until people can get in to the flooded areas to get definitive damage estimates, there’s no way to get aid from an agency like FEMA.

Hence, the call for patience.

Faulkner says, “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get those people back to their homes to assess their damage very soon.”

As for right now, the Faulkner asks flood victims to lean on their community, “Quite frankly, their neighbors and their family and their friends that are helping them today is the best help that they can get.”

As to when we’ll get a clearer answer on potential federal assistance, Faulkner adds, “We hopefully will know towards the end of the week whether or not we’re going to need to ask FEMA to come in and look at this damage with us. And see if there’s a way that we can get additional assistance in here.”

Faulkner explains the reason you need such detailed estimates, “The federal government has a formula that they use to take the number of homes that do not have insurance and are not going to receive other assistance and come up with a total of what that impact is.”

Even if parts of Alabama qualify based on the formula, it doesn’t mean everyone in the state will see help. For individual assistance, the determination is made county by county.

The other way Alabama can get federal dollars comes from the cost of the state’s response.

“The second side of that is to the public infrastructure,” says Faulkner, “It’s the cost of the government in order to be able to respond to and then recover from these disasters. That’s a per-capita threshold statewide, for the state of Alabama, a little less that $7 million.”

Again though, all of these numbers rely on surveying that can’t be done yet.

So we’ll have to wait to see if FEMA can offer any assistance at all; though it is worth noting, if we do not qualify for FEMA, it’s also possible we could get the Small Business Administration to help out with low-interest loans, including for homeowners. We’ve seen this done in tornado situations in the past.

For now, as we’ve done for the last few days, we do our best to wait out the water.