Kokomo, denied FEMA aid, fights on

State plans to appeal federal ruling

KOKOMO, Ind. - Kokomo businesses and homeowners won't be getting federal disaster assistance for damage caused by last month's tornadoes after a decision this week by FEMA.

In November, tornadoes and high winds damaged 1,000 homes in Kokomo, of which 191 received major damage or were destroyed.

"I think they said 50 percent of the houses in my neighborhood have been affected in some way, and any help would be great," said tornado victim Laura Grioves.

But hopes for federal assistance were shot down on Wednesday when FEMA denied Indiana's request for a major disaster declaration in Howard County.

Gov. Mike Pence ordered an immediate appeal.

"It was like a kick in the gut, because this is the second time we've been turned down for a disaster this year," said Jeff Newton, executive director for Kokomo Urban Outreach. "In April we had a flood and didn't get FEMA help for that."

According to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, 200 homes destroyed once triggered federal disaster aid -- but not anymore. Now, that amount has essentially doubled, making it harder to rebuild for people without insurance, those underinsured or homeowners with high deductibles.

"That, I don't understand," said Kokomo resident Angie Sparks. "How come we spend so much money on trivial things when people lost houses and businesses? Give us a break. Help us."

On Monday, IDHS will start joint damage assessments as part of Indiana's appeal. Estimates are that Howard Co. alone had $2.8 million in tornado damage.

"It's way more than houses lost," Newton said. "The $2.8 million doesn't count lost wages and lost businesses. That's just the physical damage.

If Indiana loses its appeal, a state disaster relief fund is available that includes SBA loans for home and business owners.

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