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Bush frees tornado relief funds

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The White House has changed course and asked the Federal Emergency Management Administration to release emergency relief funds to residents of Bay Ridge whose homes and cars were damaged in the Aug. 8 tornado.

Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge), who kept the heat on federal officials after they allocated relief funds only to Queens homeowners after the vicious storm, announced on Friday afternoon that FEMA had decided to also designate Bay Ridge for “federal disaster assistance.”

“The damage throughout our community was widespread and significant [so] I want to thank FEMA for responding to our request and for providing a helping hand to affected Brooklynit­es,” he said.

After the Aug. 8 storm, FEMA did send inspectors to the hardest-hit areas of Bay Ridge — a concentric circle of damage centered around 67th Street between Fourth and Seventh avenues. Though the damage was severe — hundreds of cars and roofs were destroyed — President Bush initially only awarded relief funds to Queens, where more than 1,000 homes were flooded.

But Fossella kept the pressure on, and the president relented. One resident, at least, is happy he did.

“We need FEMA’s help,” said Ho Wong, who lost part of the roof at his 69th Street home. “The damage done to the roof, windows, and chimney are too much for us to handle alone.”

Wong said he doesn’t have an estimate for all of the damage yet, but plans on filling out the FEMA paperwork.

The assistance may help the recovery, but it will never replace the memories of that unforgettable morning.

“When you wake up and the air conditioner that was in your window is now in a different room of your house you know something isn’t right,” added Wong.

To apply for financial assistance, affected residents should call (800) 621-FEMA or visit www.fema.gov.

Businesses that were also victims of the tornado — believed to be the only one to hit Bay Ridge since meteorologists started keeping records — can apply for federally backed loans through the Small Business Administration to repair or replace property not covered by insurance.

Business owners should contact the Small Business Administration directly at (800) 659-2955 or by downloading the loan application from the agency’s Web site, Sba.gov.

As a result of the presidential “disaster area” declaration, the Internal Revenue Service has even gotten into the act, announcing this week that it would waive any interest or penalty for individuals or businesses filing late because of the storm — as long as all payments and paperwork is in by Nov. 15.

The agency said its computer systems have automatically identified taxpayers located in the disaster area, so those taxpayers “do not need to writ[e] on their returns or us[e] the disaster designation in their tax software,” the agency announced.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management has set up an office to assist residents affected by the tornado. It will be at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (552 59th St., at Sixth Avenue in Bay Ridge), Mon–Sat, 11 am–7 pm. Call (800) 621-FEMA for information.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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