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quake aid

Recovering from quake, Napa County requests federal disaster assistance

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The county Board of Supervisors made a disaster declaration official Thursday afternoon, asking the federal government for as much assistance as quickly as possible as the county and city of Napa recover from Sunday’s earthquake.

But it’s uncertain whether any assistance will be issued to local governments, homeowners, and business owners still reeling from the major temblor, as well as when any aid would arrive in Napa, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Officials with the local and state governments are doing their preliminary damage estimates, and hope to wrap that up by the end of this week. The state will make its recommendations to Gov. Jerry Brown’s office potentially by the end of next week, according to the California Office of Emergency Services.

FEMA will be collaborating with the state and local officials on the damage assessment, spokeswoman Veronica Verde said. FEMA staff has not arrived in Napa, but has its teams assembled in Oakland ready to go once the local officials need them. The local and state officials have to finish their assessments first, Verde said.

Napa County Executive Officer Nancy Watt said Thursday that the damage estimate for Napa County, including the city of Napa, unincorporated area, and other towns, was now $362 million, That figure will undoubtedly change, Watt said, and FEMA will adjust it as it deems fit.

If the federal disaster declaration does happen, homeowners and businesses could see cash assistance, low-interest loans, while Napa and Napa County could get FEMA to cover some of their costs. Local governments, if eligible, would get FEMA to cover 75 percent of that.

FEMA has a threshold of $51 million in public damage to qualify for public agency assistance, which is one of two aid programs it runs, Verde said. For private assistance to homeowners and businesses, it has to review other data on the extent of the damage and repercussions from the quake, such as the number of people out of their homes or the time businesses have been shut down.

It will take time to do all of that, Verde acknowledged. A federal declaration of a disaster would have to be made by President Obama, following a request by Gov. Brown. Verde couldn’t pin down a specific time frame on when aid would become available, but said federal officials will work as fast as they can assessing the situation if they get the request from the state.

“All disasters start local,” Verde said. “We’re expecting it to be days and not months and years.”

A key point in FEMA’s evaluation will be the severity of the situation on the ground in Napa, Verde said. That makes comparisons to past major disasters difficult, she noted. After Hurricane Sandy devastated New York City and the New Jersey coastline two years ago, President Obama declared a disaster within three days.

But the local and state governments were overwhelmed by that natural disaster, thousands of people were staying in shelters, and power was out throughout the region. Similarly, the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake in Southern California in 1994 required an immediate FEMA response, but it also killed almost 60 people, injured almost 10,000 people and left scores of others without homes, Verde said.

Napa’s situation will have to be evaluated in its own context before any federal disaster declaration is made, Verde said. First, the agency will have to rely on data assembled by the state and local officials on the extent and severity of the damage.

“FEMA doesn’t get involved in every disaster,” Verde said. “There’s a process that we have to follow.”

If FEMA does offer assistance to public agencies in Napa County, efforts were underway in Sacramento to secure further aid. Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, and Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, are moving legislation in the California Legislature requesting Gov. Jerry Brown to have the state to pick up the remaining 25 percent, which would otherwise be a tab local governments would have to pay, said Larry Florin, director of the county’s Housing and Intergovernmental Affairs Department.

The Legislature’s deadline to pass bills is Friday, so the bill will have to move quickly, Florin said. The Board of Supervisors voted on a resolution supporting the legislation Thursday afternoon.

Florin said the county sent out an online survey to all 500 wineries in Napa County, asking about the damage they sustained in the quake. The county got 239 responses, and 200 reported some damage, with varying severity, he said. Three wineries — Trefethen, Anthem and Laird — sustained major destruction to property.

Florin said four hotels had closed, but all others were operating. Supervisor Keith Caldwell said the aftershocks Napa County experienced this week caused some of the damaged assessments to be redone.

“There’s plenty of opportunities to add in numbers,” Caldwell said of the changing nature of the assessment.

But he said he was awed by the way Napa residents responded to the devastation early Sunday morning, and showing generosity and concern for neighbors’ safety. Walking through downtown Sunday morning, somebody asked if there was any risk of looting. “Everybody looked at her and said, ‘What looting?’ ” Caldwell said.

Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht echoed that sentiment, noting that the community is facing a prolonged recovery process.

“The adrenaline has pumped and run strongly through all of us this week,” Wagenknecht said. “The work is now. Be kind to each other. Understand that there are people who are still dealing with this issue.”

Supervisor Mark Luce said it’s been a showing of the community’s spirit to a broader world that sees Napa Valley as a playground for the affluent.

“This has really been kind of beautiful,” Luce said. “It’s not all about drinking wine.”

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