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A typical day for FEMA Agents here spend time surveying damage, meeting officials to develop cost 'guesstimates'

The days start at 6:30 a.m. and end at around 9 p.m. for the two-member inspection team.

In between, Tom Lang and Mac Sabol spend as much time sitting at tables looking over spreadsheets and notepads as they do inspecting piles of tree branches.

Their 45-minute meeting Thursday in East Aurora's Department of Public Works office is typical.

The pair met with a half dozen local officials to hear how much the village, town and county had spent so far cleaning up that area after last week's snowstorm.

"We discussed with them what their costs were," Lang said. "And we attempted to come up with, as close as we can, some kind of 'guesstimate' of how much they have spent and how much they anticipate spending."

Lang and Sabol comprise an inspection team assessing the financial hit to local governments. Other teams are assessing the damage to families and businesses whose properties have been damaged and whose losses are not covered by insurance.

Seven teams of state and Federal Emergency Management Agency staff arrived Wednesday in Erie, Genesee, Niagara, and Orleans counties to assess the damage and see if there's further need for federal assistance. Four of the teams are in Erie County.

Before their East Aurora meeting, Lang and Sabol drove around subdivisions and along main roads in Orchard Park -- and also met with Orchard Park town and village leaders -- to come up with a preliminary damage estimate. Orchard Park officials wanted the two to see how many trees and branches still needed to be picked up, even after crews had done work in some of the hardest-hit parts of town.

"We try to get a feel for how much work is there," Lang said.

At the East Aurora meeting, Matthew Hoeh, director of the village's Department of Public Works, described to the pair how much work his 16-member staff put in clearing 28 miles of streets and four parking lots. Hoeh said his crews would need another month or so to clean up the debris.

"We've been keeping numbers since day one," Hoeh said. "We've been out all weekend assessing all the damage and pretty much have an idea of how long it's going to take us to pick up."

The FEMA team looks at more than the cost of removing fallen trees and branches.

"A lot of it is debris," Lang said. "But we also include emergency protective measures. They put a lot of police out and a lot firemen. You had a lot of equipment running, you had roads to plow and wires to deal with."

After a day of driving around Erie County and meeting with local officials, the two head to the county emergency operations center in Cheektowaga, where they fill out forms and calculate the damage.

On Wednesday, Lang and Sabol met with officials from Cheektowaga, Lancaster, Alden and Depew.

"In some cases, they have exactly to the dollar how much they've spent, even to the nickel," Lang said of the local officials.

The FEMA team's work involves a lot of math.

"What we're looking for is to come up with a number," Lang said. "We come up with a number for what we perceive the damages to be in the different communities we've been assigned to evaluate. We provide that information up the chain.

"Then somebody, somewhere along the line, is going to put it all together and they're going to make some decision," he said. Federal officials will decide whether the four-county area deserves more financial assistance, based on the preliminary damage assessments provided by Lang and Sabol and the other inspection teams.

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com

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