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FEMA extends debris-removal deadline

Government and private officials were told this morning that theFederal Emergency Management Agency has extended severaldisaster-relief and debris-removal deadlines.

Officials also tackled a safety issue during a storm-recoverymeeting this morning.

Friday was to be the last day for 100 percent federally fundeddebris cleanup operations. However, Lincoln County Civil DefenseDirector Clifford Galey said FEMA pushed that deadline back to Nov.26.

In addition, the President Bush has signed a bill allowingcleanup operations after that date to be reimbursed at a 90/10federal-state split. Normally, federal reimbursement after thedeadline would have been just 75 percent, Galey said.

In a separate matter, Aaron Achord, manager of engineering andoperations for Magnolia Electric Power Association, voiced hisconcern that some debris-removal contractors are putting themselvesat unnecessary risk and costing his company money in unnecessaryrepairs.

“We caught one person actually with his loader up in the neutralarea when we pulled up. That means he was three feet away from8,000 volts,” Achord said.

By law, he said, when contractors will be working within 10 feetof power lines they are to notify the utility company so they cantake steps to ensure the safety of the operator as well as protecttheir lines.

“We went through this hurricane with no major injuries,” Achordsaid. “We don’t need someone to get hurt now.”

Kyron Mabry, resident engineer for the U.S. Army Corps ofEngineers in Hattiesburg, told officials to let them know whichoperators were causing the problems so they could be terminatedfrom their contract.

“We’ve replaced operators before who were into the power lines.Those operations are critical,” he said.

Over the weekend, crews in a neighboring county tore down linesfour times, Achord said.

In each case, he said, the accident went unreported by theoperators and was caused by debris being piled too high in thebacks of trucks. The torn-down lines were 18 feet in the air – 2feet higher than the law requires.

Again, Mabry asked officials to notify FEMA of violators andthreatened the termination of their contract. The drivers are toldto keep the loads below 13.5 feet, he said.

“We have no problem with law enforcement enforcing those heightrestrictions,” he said. “That seems to help some if you get them inthe pocketbook.”

Drivers are supposed to take into account that bumps in the roadand wind can cause the load to shift and make some debris risehigher, he said.

“We’re supposed to have people out there watching for that,”Mabry said. “We’ll have to talk among ourselves and see why thatisn’t being done.”

The Corps also notified county officials of two accidentsinvolving subcontractors during debris removal. The contractor orthe Corps will cover the damages, but Corps officials said theywanted county officials aware of the accidents.

On Monday, they said, a small log fell off a boom and struck apassing motorist’s vehicle on Oil Field Lane. There were noinjuries. There was a similar accident on Fox Road on Saturday.