State to receive $1.5 million in federal tornado aid
WASHINGTON -- Alabama will get $1.5 million in emergency federal aid to help repair roads and other infrastructure damaged by tornadoes, federal officials said Tuesday.
Alabama lawmakers, who toured storm-damaged areas Tuesday with federal officials and congressional lawmakers, welcomed the news.
"It's a blessing. ... I'm grateful that the president is keeping his word that we wouldn't be forgotten," said Democrat Rep. Terri Sewell, whose 7th Congressional District was hard hit by tornadoes in April. "We are no longer the front-page news, and other disasters continue to occur. We just don't want the resources to be diverted from our disaster."
Tornadoes swept through areas of the state, including Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, on April 27, leaving at least 240 dead and doing millions of dollars in damage. Officials have said it could take years to recover and have pressed Congress and federal officials to provide aid.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the $1.5 million in aid after touring tornado-damaged areas around Birmingham, including parts of U.S. 78, on Tuesday.
The funding is "part of the administration's all-hands-on-deck response to this tragedy, which will help the state restore its roads and bridges," LaHood said in a statement. "As President (Barack) Obama has said, we will be here to support you no matter how long it takes."
The president also visited Alabama soon after the tornadoes struck.
Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, also toured areas around Birmingham on Tuesday and met with local officials, including Birmingham Mayor William Bell and city council members.
Thompson and Sewell also addressed a group at the Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Pratt City.
The funding from the Federal Highway Administration will be used to reimburse the state for repairs made soon after the storms. The funding is to help repair and rebuild roads and bridges damaged after natural disasters.
Federal officials said those costs could amount to more than $10 million in Alabama.
In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently pledged $49 million to help victims with housing and other needs.
Some rebuilding efforts, including debris removal, have begun. Sewell said the state needs more money to repair homes and provide temporary housing.
"I know we will rebuild and restore our communities and they will be bigger and better than ever, but that process will take time," Sewell said. "My hope is that people will not be frustrated ... but rather be patient and make sure that folks continue to stay focused on getting the resources they need."