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FEMA uses text messaging to communicate with KY flood survivors; exact number of homeless unknown

The Rural Blog

“Three weeks after a catastrophic flood hit Eastern Kentucky, local state and federal officials say they are still unable to determine exactly how many people are homeless or how many homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed,” Sam Adams reports for The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg.

“At least 700 people are in shelters provided by the state, but there is still an untold number of people who are staying in shelters provided by the Red Cross or other relief agencies, and still more who are not in shelters all.”

The flooding. (Photo courtesy of Teresa Collins, Center for Rural Strategies)

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has echoed complaints that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is denying too many claims, but the vast majority of refusals are because they’re missing documents and can’t reach claimants to get them, FEMA coordinator Brett Howard told Adams. He said the agency has approved 73 percent of overall relief applications and 63% of emergency housing applications. Part of the problem is poor cell-phone reception and demolished roads and bridges.

In a press conference this week, Beshear said many people aren’t answering when FEMA agents call them, perhaps because they don’t want to answer calls from an unfamiliar number, Josh James reports for WUKY.

“Thus far, FEMA has tried to call 4,006 applicants. 1,508 have picked up,” Beshear said. “We are talking to them about the numbers of times that they call, but please pick up your phone.”

Beshear said that for the first time, FEMA is using text messaging to communicate with claimants.

Howard advised people whose claims have been denied to appeal. Since most denials are due to missing documents, “the state has placed employees from Cabinets that can help in the Disaster Assistance Centers with FEMA to streamline the process of appeals,” Adams reports.

Those state employees can probably print needed documents for claimants to submit to FEMA, Howard said.

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