Governor asks for federal loan assistance for county
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

March 20, 2004 -- In the aftermath of tornadoes that swept across southern and eastern Hopkins County earlier this month, Texas Governor Rick Perry said Tuesday he was requesting assistance from the United States Department of Agriculture to help the county deal with the damage from the storm.

"Farmers and ranchers have suffered considerable economic and physical losses because of weather events beyond their control," Perry said. "These losses exceed state, local and private sector assistance capabilities, and we are asking the federal government to assist."

The majority of the storm damage was in Precinct 2 in Hopkins County and word of the governor's help caught Commissioner Burke Bullock by surprise.

"I'm very surprised to hear Gov. Perry doing that," Bullock said. "He doesn't seem very attuned to our needs. I am just very happy to get it though."

Gov. Perry has asked the USDA to designate Hopkins County as a disaster area and to make assistance available through the Federal Emergency Loans Program.

"Right now, I don't care where the help comes from, we need it." Bullock said. "We've had two disasters here in this area. We had a disaster last winter in an ice storm and people lost some barns. Then we had the same thing happen this spring ... Precinct 2 was right in the middle of both of them."

The storms first touched down in Precinct 1, in the southwestern part of the county, and moved east according to Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker.

"I think probably one of the areas that sustained the most damage was over closer to Reilly Springs where my precinct meets Precinct 2," Wisenbaker said. "Evidentially, the tornado really got close to the ground right through there. Yes, there was damage in this area, but most of it was in the Pickton-Pine Forest area."

The commissioner said the county had expended thousands of dollars and manpower in the immediate response to the storms and said the outside help would be appreciated.

"It will be wonderful," she said. "I'm not so sure that, from a county view point, we've spent probably a week and a half to two weeks cleaning up that we normally wouldn't have. If there is some help in the debris removal, that would be nice."

Immediately after the storm, County Judge Cletis Millsap declared the county a disaster area, the first step in securing state and federal assistance. The next step will be to file a damage assessment report with USDA.

Emergency loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture can help cover both production and physical losses, including the restoration or replacement of essential property, reorganization of a farming operation and refinancing of certain debts.

The loan limit is up to 80 percent of the actual loss with a maximum indebtedness of $500,000.

The governor's home county of Haskell is included in the request for assistance along with Baylor County for storm damage as well as Lee County in response to a continuing drought.

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