Richardson declares area state disaster

By Marlena Hartz : Freedom Newspapers

Government entities of three eastern New Mexico communities hit hard by tornadoes Friday were given access to state funds for restoration Sunday, but aid for affected individuals hinges on the federal government, according to authorities.

Gov. Bill Richardson declared Clovis a state disaster area Sunday as he toured a neighborhood in south Clovis, the area most devastated by Friday’s tornado.

“These people need help immediately. My worry is they will not have a place to live,” said Richardson, standing in a mountain of wreckage.

Richardson released $750,000 in state funds through an executive order Sunday to repair roads, power lines, and infrastructure and cover overtime wages for emergency responders in Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties.

He said he will push the Federal Emergency Management Agency to release aid for individuals.

“We’re going to try to find ways to help individuals with their homes,” Richardson said.

The governor is also seeking FEMA funds to help restore public property, according to a spokesperson for the New Mexico Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Carrie Moritomo.

Early damage assessments released Sunday indicate nearly 500 Clovis homes and businesses were damaged in Friday’s storm. Nearly 60 structures in Clovis were destroyed, officials said.

Richardson signed his executive order on the corner of Diane and Oak Streets in Clovis. He put his hand on the shoulder of one man leaning against a car nearby his ruined home, conversed with him in Spanish, and told him help was on the way.

“It’s like a gift,” said Paul Maes of the governor’s visit to his Oak Street neighborhood, where homes were demolished by the tornado.

The interior walls of one house were still wrapped around a broken tree, yellow wallpaper intact. Pink insulation, pipes and splintered wood made a maze of yards.

One young boy sipped soup from a Salvation Army mobile kitchen in a field of grass. Around him, bulldozers lifted ruins and people labored to clean up their neighborhood.

Many homeowners in this neighborhood have no insurance, according to those that live there.

“I grew up here,” Maes, 25, said. “It’s sad to see everything like this. … In a disaster like this, I think we deserve a little bit of help.”

Authorities said FEMA officials would arrive in Clovis today to further assess the damage.

Certain thresholds of damage must be met before FEMA aid can be triggered, authorities said.

FEMA officials will study population density, economic impact of the tornado, and existing housing options to determine if individuals are eligible for aid, Moritomo said.

The amount and type of aid that could be given depends of those factors, Moritomo said. FEMA can give displaced individuals temporary housing, distribute money for rent, and reimburse lost wages, among other things, she said.