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FEMA denies request for help after tornado damaged businesses, homes; Anne Arundel, Annapolis leaders urge Hogan to declare emergency

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman is calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to declare a state of emergency that would provide state assistance to businesses and residents affected by the tornado in September after the Federal Emergency Management Agency declined to help.

FEMA denied the state’s request that a major disaster declaration be made, which would have allowed access to federal funds to help rebuild after a tornado with wind speeds up to 125 mph ripped through Annapolis and Edgewater Sept. 1.

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“The denial letter coming from FEMA actually said that they did not believe that the storm was of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state and effected local government,” Pittman said on a call with members of the media on Tuesday morning.

If the governor were to declare a state of emergency, it would allow access to two things, Pittman said. The VOLT loan program, which gives access to $1 million in funding for businesses, could be used as a grant program and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development would allow assistance to underinsured and uninsured homeowners to rebuild their homes.

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“I wrote a letter yesterday to Gov. Hogan requesting that the state of Maryland request an emergency based on this incident,” he said. “The reason I did that is that we need to be able to activate all of the state resources that we can, both for the businesses and for the residents who had damage as a result of this tornado.”

Initial county damage assessments tallied five buildings were destroyed, 24 were majorly damaged, 24 had minor damage and 25 others were listed as being affected. At least 18 of those homes were uninhabitable, according to the letter.

In the city of Annapolis, over 92 properties were affected, with five completely destroyed, 29 sustaining major damage and 46 with minor damage. In Annapolis, 37 individuals were initially displaced and 25 businesses were impacted, including 15 of which were condemned.

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley echoed the sentiment that he urges the governor to declare a state of emergency as soon as possible.

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“We were on the ground as soon as the emergency happened. We promised that community that we wouldn’t abandon them,” Buckley said. “These are taxpaying residents of the state of Maryland, give them the chance to get back on their feet. Let’s finish the work we started.”

Hogan’s Director of Communications Mike Ricci tweeted that the Maryland Emergency Management Agency was meeting with Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Tuesday “to discuss options for appealing the decision, and other potential avenues for relief.”

“While disappointing, FEMA’s decision is by no means the end of the process,” Ricci wrote.

Jeff Amoros, communications director in the county executive’s office, said the meeting did take place and another one will be set to discuss what is next.

Walter Vasquez, the owner of Annapolis International Market, was disappointed when he heard that FEMA denied the request for help.

“We were hoping to have that helping hand to go back to work and to help the economy get back on its feet,” he said. “It is what it is at this point.”

If Vasquez would have got assistance from FEMA, he would have used it for more products, advertising and training employees, he said. Nearly $1 million in damages were caused to his business: Structurally $300,000, merchandise $250,000 and business $300,000.

“We just have to move on, if FEMA doesn’t want to help, it is fair enough but I think the people and business here need the help,” he said.

Vasquez praised Buckley, Pittman and Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell-Charles, who represents the area that was affected on West Street, for all their help.

“They are the reason we are rebuilding so quickly, it has only been six weeks and we are already putting on the roof and next week is the AC,” Vasquez said. “Customers have been missing us but they know what happened and we will come back better.”

Vasquez has plans for the reopening in December with the first Latino butcher in the city, a smoothie machine and a handmade tortilla machine. He also plans to employ 10-17 people.

Fast Cash Pawnbrokers was located on West Street but had to move to Forest Drive after the tornado because the building needs to be fully rebuilt, said Jamuri Butler, an employee at the shop.

Butler said the employees had to move everything from the shop to the new one themselves.

“It was pretty hard, we had to clean out this new building and it took two to three weeks for us to move everything,” Butler said.

The customers have been finding the new location just fine, Butler said. They added a QR to the old building that gives them GPS directions to the new store.

“We could have used the money. We always can use money,” Butler said. “I would tell Hogan that businesses need the money right now. Small and private-owned businesses especially, like us. It is harder for small businesses to bounce back, we aren’t like Walmart.”

Capital Gazette editor Brandi Bottalico contributed to this article.

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