U.S. homeland security secretary visits Lincoln County

Monday, July 7, 2008 | 6:47 p.m. CDT; updated 10:45 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

WINFIELD — Gov. Matt Blunt gave U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff a firsthand look at damage from recent Missouri flooding Monday during a helicopter tour over some of the ravaged area.

Chertoff visited with officials in hard-hit Lincoln County and got a quick update about how recovery is going. Later, he and Blunt held a news conference outside City Hall in Winfield.

Chertoff said he wanted to visit Winfield, 45 miles northwest of St. Louis, because he had been impressed by efforts to shore up a levee to try to save part of the town.

“I remember watching pictures of the heroic effort of the National Guard and the citizens furiously working to pile sandbags in order to try to save this town,” he said.

He called it a story of enormous courage and resilience, even though the levee was breached.

“It’s a tremendous tribute to the outstanding spirit of the people of this community,” he said.

This was Chertoff’s first trip to Missouri, but his third to the Midwest, since the recent flooding. Now, he said, the state and counties will assess their needs.

“We want to be side by side in figuring how to fill those needs,” he said.

In Lincoln County, it’s estimated about 650 homes and businesses have been affected by flooding, but officials said it’s hard to tell with the Mississippi River still so high.

Seven Missouri counties have qualified for federal assistance as well as individual and public assistance: Clark, Lewis, Marion, Ralls, Lincoln, Pike and St. Charles. An additional three, Atchison, Andrew and Holt, have qualified for public assistance.

Individual assistance allows businesses and individuals to begin the recovery process, while public assistance helps local governments receive reimbursement for emergency protective expenses, such as costs related to sandbagging or funds for rebuilding roads that have been washed out.

Disaster recovery assistance centers have been set up for those wishing to register for governmental assistance or low-interest loans in the Missouri towns of Hannibal, Clarksville and Winfield, and in Cahokia, Ill.

Missouri State Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Susie Stonner said it’s too soon to say if communities will try to pursue buyouts of flood-prone land. Funds are expected to become available for hazard mitigation, and communities will be able to submit projects for consideration.

She said any buyouts would be voluntary. Local communities contribute 25 percent of the cost, the federal government the remaining 75 percent.

Stay-at-home mom Denise Marshall of Winfield said she registered with FEMA last week, and her property was inspected the next day. She said her home was elevated after the 1993 flood but still took on water in the basement.

Marshall, 43, said she believed her family would get some government funds for housing assistance and possibly for repairs, such as the replacement of soggy drywall. The family did not have flood insurance.

“We couldn’t afford it. Of course, we couldn’t afford not to afford it,” she said.

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