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Underwood declares disaster in W.Va.

August 11, 1999

By BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Two months after saying West Virginia was in a state of drought emergency, Gov. Cecil Underwood on Wednesday declared the state a disaster area.

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The declaration is a procedural move that allows the state to operate under emergency guidelines and give faster aid to those affected by the drought, Underwood said.

Underwood also called for a special session of the state Legislature on Aug. 17, in which he said he plans to ask for $5 million to $10 million in emergency aid from the state's "rainy day fund."

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West Virginia was declared a federal disaster Aug. 2, making area farmers eligible for federal assistance, but Underwood said the state disaster declaration goes beyond eligibility for low-interest loans.

"That's not what our farmers need right now. They need more immediate assistance," Underwood said.

Underwood said he will meet with the state Legislature in Charleston, W.Va., following the Legislature's final interim session at noon on Aug. 17.

While Underwood said he plans to ask for at least $5 million from the Legislature, he said it has been difficult to determine how much money is needed.

"It's hard because there is no ready source of data for how much damage has been done, plus the situation continues to get worse every day," Underwood said.

With the Eastern Panhandle enduring its worst drought conditions in 100 years, Underwood said he plans to use money from the state's $75 million contingency fund to haul grain and water to farmers.

The emergency funds also will be used to draw federal matching funds for disaster relief, Underwood said.

State Agriculture Secretary Gus Douglass has already asked for $2 million in state money that would bring $7 million in federal matching funds.

The state disaster declaration makes it easier to call out the national guard and mobilize Division of Highways vehicles to provide drought relief around the state, Underwood said.

The money also will be used to purchase additional 300-gallon tanks for hauling water, he said.

While neighboring Maryland and Pennsylvania have already issued statewide water restrictions, Underwood has opted to leave decisions on water rationing in the hands of local governments.

He has not ruled out the possibility of statewide water restrictions.

"We may have to go that way if this continues," Underwood said.

The drought conditions have heightened Underwood's concerns about forest fires.

September and October are traditionally dry months for West Virginia, and Underwood said statewide burn bans may be needed to cut down on the chance of accidental woods and grass fires.

Berkeley County recorded 25.7 inches of rainfall as of June 30, about 12 inches below its 12-month normal of 37.3 inches. Jefferson County had 28.5 inches of rainfall as of Aug. 3 compared to its 12-month normal of 38.7 inches.

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