ATLANTIC CITY - President Bush approved emergency disaster aid yesterday for individuals in six New Jersey counties - including Burlington County - hit by flooding from the April 15 nor'easter.
The president's action makes federal funding available to affected people in Bergen, Burlington, Essex, Passaic, Somerset and Union Counties, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
The federal government has placed no limit on the amount of eligible expenses it will reimburse, said Peter Martinasco, who is coordinating the response to the storm for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Acting Gov. Richard Codey said last week that New Jersey had incurred $180 million in damage to public and private property across the state. Bush's action covered only damage incurred by individuals.
Codey had asked the president to declare all of New Jersey a federal disaster area.
He said that about 3,000 people were evacuated from their homes and, at the storm's peak, about 40,000 were without power. About 1,400 sought refuge in shelters.
U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D., N.J.) yesterday also reiterated their call for a statewide disaster declaration.
"This [declaration in six counties] is a good and important step that should help thousands of our state's hardest-hit residents, but I'm hoping it is only a first step," said Menendez. "Issuing a declaration for the entire state is the right move to make next, and I'm glad the acting governor has requested it."
Burlington County officials estimated the cost of the flooding in the county at $8.3 million. About $5.2 million involved damage to public facilities, with private property accounting for the rest.
In Lumberton, one of the Burlington County communities hit hard by flooding, about 70 people were evacuated from their homes. Nineteen of 74 houses that were affected - when the South Branch of the Rancocas Creek overflowed its banks - had water on their first floors as well as in their basements.
In the end, the town had $975,000 in damage to houses and $25,000 in damage to public facilities. Among other towns affected, Medford had $1.76 million in damage to public facilities such as roads and bridges, and Burlington City had $500,000 damage to 200 homes.
FEMA said other New Jersey counties may be added to the disaster declaration later. Decisions also will be made soon on New Jersey's request for funds to repair damage to public property such as roads, bridges and municipal buildings from the storm.
The state also wants funds for flood control work designed to prevent future flood damage and to buy up flood-prone properties.
The aid for individuals authorizes federal assistance for homeowners and renters for temporary housing costs, home repair, transportation, medical treatment, storage and other necessary assistance.
Low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration also will be available to cover residential and business losses not fully compensated by insurance.
FEMA will set up local disaster recovery centers in the affected counties starting Sunday. The exact locations are to be made public today.
To register for assistance, call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362, or register online at www.fema.gov.
The Internal Revenue Service also announced yesterday that taxpayers affected by the storm will have until June 25 to file returns or pay taxes. Because the agency's computer system now automatically identifies taxpayers within the disaster area, taxpayers no longer need to indicate the storm on their returns.
SOURCE: Associated Press