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Pa. officials hail Obama's disaster declaration

Published: Sunday, Sept. 4 2011 10:32 a.m. MDT

Local Pennsylvania emergency officials are welcoming President Barack Obama's disaster declaration that will send federal aid to at least five counties in the commonwealth following Hurricane Irene.

Obama on Saturday ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts after the heavy winds, rain and flooding struck Aug. 26-30, killing five people in Pennsylvania.

The federal funding will be available to state and local governments and some nonprofits for emergency work and repair in five Pennsylvania counties: Chester, Northampton, Sullivan, Susquehanna and Wyoming. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says more counties could receive assistance after additional assessments are made.

"It looks like some hard work's paid off," said Bob Mateff, director of Northampton County emergency management services, who led FEMA officials on a tour Thursday of municipalities hardest hit by the storm. He told The (Easton) Express-Times that officials saw damage in Hellertown, Lower Saucon Township, Bethlehem, Glendon and Forks Township and "it was a slop across."

Robert Kagel, Chester County deputy director of emergency management, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the speed of the declaration was especially welcome.

"We were confident that we had enough damage to prove that we needed the disaster relief," Kagel said. "But we certainly were not expecting it this fast."

Forty of the 90 county-owned bridges in Chester County were affected by the storm and two emergency shelters were established, caring for 180 people for 20 hours, Kagel said. The county's hardest-hit areas were Avondale and Franklin Townships, Westtown, West Chester, Phoenixville, and Tredyffrin.

Officials said disaster aid will be available only to governments and certain nonprofits rather than residents or businesses.

"I'm still anxious to hear their final answer on the individual side," Mateff said.

Northampton County Councilman Ron Angle said he's seen the worst damage on houses by creeks rather than along rivers that are historically trouble spots.

"In my travels around, it's really been the people around the creeks that have took the beatings, and it's really been the people with large trees around their houses," Angle said.

Gov. Tom Corbett had requested federal disaster aid for the state, citing more than $32 million in damage in four northeastern counties and losses yet to be totaled in at least nine others.

Obama signed a similar disaster declaration Wednesday for New Jersey

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