Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Federal aid making way to isle shores

FEMA and the SBA have approved funds to help those affected by the March tsunami

By Gene Park


Federal aid trickles in to island businesses and homeowners still licking their wounds from March's tsunami.

So far, the U.S. Small Business Administration has approved $1.18 million for 14 claims for low-interest federal disaster loans across the state. Five of the claims were for homes, while nine were for businesses, said Olivia Humilde, spokeswoman for the U.S. Small Business Administration in Sacramento, Calif.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency assessed about $6.2 million in damage for 16 projects at the small-boat harbors on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, according to the state Civil Defense. FEMA is expected to pay 75 percent of the costs for repairs.

"FEMA tends to underestimate the cost, so the actual reimbursement might be higher than that by the end of the projects," said Shelly Ichishita, spokeswoman for state Civil Defense.

On March 11, Hawaii's shores were swamped by tsunami waves that came from the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that devastated Japan. Harbors, boats and properties by the shore were damaged.

However, the damage was localized, so the state did not qualify for FEMA  assistance, Ichishita said. That's why the state appealed to the U.S. SBA for loan assistance.

Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace damaged real estate. Homeowners and renters can receive up to $40,000 for personal property. Businesses and nonprofits may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace business assets.

The deadline for loans was May 31, but Humilde said small-business owners have until Dec. 29 to apply for economic injury disaster loans.

Those loans are available regardless of whether the business suffered any property damage.

"This type of loan is a working capital loan, if they had loss of business because they were closed, for example," Humilde said. "This will help them meet any operating expenses they can't meet."

A few FEMA-funded public projects have been completed, Ichishita said. They are: 

» $2,463 to remove mixed debris from Kealakekua Bay, including the roof section of a home.

» $2,600 at the Kailua-Kona wharf to remove debris, including asphalt pavement, cement and fencing.

» $125,000 to repair the Lahaina Small Boat Harbor, including fixing the outer and inner marginal docks.

Keehi Small Boat Harbor probably suffered the most damage in the state, with initial estimates to be around $3 million. Two piers there, 900 and 1,000, were under renovation when the tsunami hit. The state is waiting to see whether the contractor's insurance will cover the damage, Ichishita said.

Five boat owners in the area also submitted claims to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for damage to their boats, she said. The state is determining whether the boat owners would be eligible for assistance, but they might not know for another two months, Ichishita said.

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