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City, county awaiting word on debris removal assistance

While Brookhaven and Lincoln County have requested assistancefrom the government in debris cleanup from Hurricane Gustav,officials have said the disaster declaration has to be made by thegovernor’s office first.

“It would include debris cleanup on city streets and countyroads, but not on private property,” said Lincoln County CivilDefense Director Clifford Galey.

On Thursday, emergency management officials began theirassessment of damages in the wake of Hurricane Gustav in hopes ofsecuring aid from the federal government. Galey said MEMA and FEMAofficials were in Lincoln County, taking account of damage from thewinds and flooding associated with the storm.

“The damaged areas in Mississippi are doing individualassessments and surveys to see if there is enough damage to receiveassistance,” Galey said. “We’re still waiting on an answer from theassessment team.”

There needs to be a disaster declaration handed down from theOval Office, Galey said, for federal cleanup assistance to begin.President George W. Bush has already issued such a declaration forLouisiana, but most officials feel damages there were more obviousthan in the inland counties of Mississippi.

“At this point in time there still is no presidentialdeclaration for the state of Mississippi,” Galey said.

Hurricane Katrina, however, was something of an exception inthat the federal powers that be paid to help clear people’s privateproperty. Gov. Haley Barbour told reporters Wednesday after ahelicopter tour of the coast that the federal government won’t payto remove wreckage from private property as it did in 2005.

Meanwhile, city and county crews have already begun cleanup oncounty rights-of-way and city streets. Galey said local officialshope the federal government will reimburse the local governmentsfor their work in case of a declaration.

“If we get the public assistance declaration, that would allowthe city and the county to be reimbursed for their work on an 80/20percent scale,” Galey said. “That would be for the removal ofdebris on city streets and county roads. And we’re already workingon picking that stuff up whether we get paid for it or not.”

In addition, Galey said, the request submitted to the governmentincluded several counties, but that does not mean the governmentwill approve them all.

“Lincoln County is included in the request, but that doesn’tmean we’ll definitely be included in the declaration,” he said.

And, Galey said, Hurricane Ike could bring its own problems.Then again, he said, it could go in a totally different direction.It has yet to be seen exactly what the next storm will do, hesaid.

“From an emergency management standpoint, it’s too far out totell,” he said. “But citizens need to be prepared in any case.”

On that note, Galey said, people seemed to have been moreprepared for Gustav, and more aware of the potential damage and thechore of what it takes to fix things after the region takes a hitlike a major hurricane.

“We just appreciate all the folks out there this time around,because they were more patient and understanding than in Katrina,”Galey said. “I think that’s because they were much better prepareddue to the magnitude of Katrina.”