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Aid flows to flood victims Federal and state disaster officials reacting quickly to August emergency

Only a couple of days intervened between the government's announcement of federal aid to flood-damaged communities south of Buffalo and the helping hand that also was extended to individual homeowners and businesses. That was welcome news, and commendably quick action by state and federal disaster officials.
This week's announcement that upward of 300 emergency workers will be deployed to Western New York to help eligible residents navigate the application and approval process -- with 238 already assigned -- is solid evidence that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is serious about putting that help to work with as little delay as possible.

In the aftermath of the Aug. 9 and 10 storms and floods that ravaged parts of Erie, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, help unquestionably is needed. The damage in Gowanda and Silver Creek was extensive, with residents left -- often literally -- to pick up the pieces of their homes.

Recently, officials from FEMA, the State Emergency Management Office and the Small Business Administration spoke to The News about aid available for those affected by the flooding. Disaster officials are taking a proactive approach in getting the word out, and ensuring that they have no prejudgments in the type of assistance required.

In fact, nearly nine out of 10 applicants have been receiving some federal aid, with the average award amounting to more than $6,000 -- more than the average of aid issued to victims of other natural disasters in this state. By last week, $1.6 million in assistance already had been awarded.

New York has endured its share of disasters lately. This is the ninth federal declaration in this state in the last 38 months, and each has its own unique story.

These events start with the local involvement of police, firefighters and emergency medical response teams and then quickly branch out to include help from surrounding communities, the state and the federal government. After these floods, Gov. David A. Paterson acted swiftly in declaring a state of emergency and asking the feds for help.

The steps toward obtaining the necessary assistance may seem cumbersome to those still struggling with the physical and psychological after-effects of such a traumatic event. Emergency officials here seem sympathetic to that. Right now, the overarching goal is to provide as much help to as many people as possible. Residents and business owners have until Nov. 4 to register for disaster aid, which can be done at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling (800) 621-3362.

The disaster program is meant to supplement private insurance policies or private assistance. And while the federal portion cannot duplicate the assistance of such systems, it will not be precluded automatically if homeowners or businesses receive other types of aid. Those who think they might get help are being urged to take the few minutes to apply, and there are FEMA centers at Mount Carmel School in Silver Creek, the Cattaraugus County Center in Little Valley and in a mobile disaster recovery unit on the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus Reservation.

FEMA has responded well to these floods, in welcome contrast to the criticism leveled against disaster response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster a few years ago. The net result is an effort that has started helping people rebuild their lives.

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