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Area counties get flood prevention funds

by Danny Forinash

STAFF WRITER

Gilmer, Lewis and Tyler are among six West Virginia counties receiving assistance for flood disaster prevention.

More than $3.3 million was awarded for flood mitigation projects in the six counties by Gov. Cecil Underwood on Thursday afternoon. Other counties to receive money are Jackson, Kanawha and Roane.

"Our investments in flood mitigation today will save more money that would be spent on flood relief and disaster assistance tomorrow," said Underwood.

Rod Blackstone, spokesman for Underwood, said the purpose of the grants is to guard against flood disasters before they happen.

Instead of waiting until after flooding has occurred and appropriating money for relief, the state hopes it can use funds to alleviate future disaster damage by purchasing homes in flood-prone areas and sending residents to safer areas or elevating homes so they are not as vulnerable.

Al Lisko of the West Virginia Office of Emergency Services called the new mitigation award "a tremendous step."

He said past experiences prove the effectiveness of mitigation.

"They do cut funding loss," said Lisko. "Communities located in areas subject to flooding will benefit greatly."

According to Lisko, Barbour County, which has already employed mitigation techniques, illustrates how it can help communities.

"(The towns of) Philippi and Junior have both used mitigation," said Lisko. "When those communities were flooded in February, there was a reduction in the number of damaged structures. It helps those who really had little opportunity before."

The flood mitigation idea started about a decade ago with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which began appropriating 15 percent of its funds for mitigation.

FEMA required states to match every $3 of FEMAmoney with $1 from their own finances. According to Blackstone, West Virginia matches federal mitigation funds dollar-for-dollar, making the state the first to make that level of commitment.

Blackstone said assistance from FEMA and the state's increase in matching funds account for $1.83 million of the total award.

The other $1.47 million comes from the federal Housing and Urban Devel-opment's disaster mitigation program, which is designated to aid counties included in the 1998 federal disaster program.

The six West Virginia counties were included after the flood disaster of June 1998.

Staff writer Danny Forinash can be reached at 626-1446.

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