Originally created 08/18/99

Coast gets disaster relief aid



SAVANNAH -- Six weeks after the rainiest day Savannah has ever seen, the U.S. Small Business Administration will make available money for low-interest loans to those without flood insurance to repair damage from the deluge.

The move comes after a formal declaration by the SBA of Chatham, Bryan, Effingham and Jasper counties as disaster areas. Now, homeowners, landlords, renters and businesses can apply for loans to fix water damage.

The June 29 storm dumped 12 inches of rain on the area in less than 12 hours, causing widespread flooding of streets and buildings.

The Chatham Emergency Management Agency put the number of private structures damaged in the flood at 700 in the county, with 500 within Savannah city limits. The city puts that number at 1,000.

The emergency agency estimates the rain caused around $2.5 million in private damage. An additional $2 million was lost to public facilities, officials estimated, such as roads, bridges and drainage canals.

Homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 in loans to cover property damaged or lost in the flood. Each structure is eligible for $200,000. Such loans offer an interest rate of 3.437 percent.

A business can receive up to $1.5 million in loans for physical damage and to help cover business lost. Such loans come with an interest rate of 4 percent.

Don Waite, SBA spokesman, said the money should help the approximately 30 percent of area residents without flood insurance recoup some of their losses.

"Hopefully, this will help us take care of everyone we need to," he said.

Clayton Scott, deputy director of the Chatham Emergency Management Agency, said he hoped the federal government would have ruled the area eligible for a presidential declaration of emergency. If that were the case, people could have applied for grants as well as loans.

But after twice coming down to assess the damage, inspectors for the Federal Emergency Management Agency ruled it wasn't bad enough to receive the grants.

"We tried to convince them that when 2 million gallons of effluent was spilled into Lazaretto Creek on Tybee it would have a bearing on tourism," Mr. Scott said. "They didn't see it that way."

That there has been little rain since the June 29 storm may have quickened the fading of this storm into memory. But to officials at the American Red Cross, helping those hurt by the floods continues.

The Red Cross spent more than $300,000 providing food, shelter, clothing and later medicine and even refrigerators to several hundred people.