Tornado damage at $3 million

THE BALTIMORE SUN

1/8 TC Tornadoes that tore off roofs and crumbled the walls of more than 100 Baltimore homes caused at least $3 million in damage, but city officials said yesterday that federal disaster aid may help some neighborhoods look better than they did before the storm.

More than $940,000 already has been spent on overtime, demolition, medical treatment, relocation and numerous costs beyond repairs, said Zack Germroth, a city housing department spokesman. The price tag increases daily, he said.

Damage estimates from Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties, which also sustained storm damage, were not available yesterday.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said that because the city must make repairs as a result of the tornadoes, it will be an opportunity to improve damaged buildings that are salvageable. "Those that we tear down will be opportunities for new housing," he said.

A spokesman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mack McLellan, said that the Small Business Administration (SBA) has been asked to provide emergency loans to Baltimore tornado victims who do not have insurance to pay for property damage.

The SBA loans are considered very important because city officials believe only about 5 percent of the tornado victims had insurance on their homes or belongings.

Between 120 and 130 houses were damaged by the high winds that swept through three working-class Baltimore neighborhoods. "We're getting new reports every day that meet the criteria for storm-damaged," Mr. Germroth said.

He said 89 houses had been condemned as a result of storm damage, but probably only nine to 11 would be torn down. Three of the houses had been in such disrepair that they were scheduled to be razed before the storm.

Fourteen of the condemned homes are owned by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and two of those were demolished, Mr. Germroth said.

The mayor said he hopes to redevelop the 1200 block of E. North Ave. -- where five houses were being demolished -- with new housing or a combination of housing and businesses. He linked the tornado recovery to the city's program to deal with the 7,700 vacant houses in Baltimore.

"It is clear that some of the areas that the storm hit, mainly on thewest side near Sandtown, were areas we were working on and designated as areas we either wanted to substantially rehabilitate or tear down," he said.

But Mr. Schmoke said the city's first focus will be to get landlords to fix up their vacant homes, rather than have them torn down.

If Baltimore's request for SBA disaster assistance is approved, homeowners will be eligible for loans up to $200,000 each to repair physical damage, and homeowners and renters will be eligible for loans up to $40,000 each to cover personal property damage, said Don Waite, an SBA spokesman in Atlanta.

Mr. Waite said businesses would be able to apply for up to $1.5 million each to cover physical damage and another $1.5 million for economic injury or "working capital" funds. The loan interest rate for businesses and individuals will be 4 percent.

"We already have the request from the governor, so after we get a damage assessment, Baltimore's application will go to Washington," Mr. Waite said. "Approval should come sometime next week. Baltimore would essentially get whatever it takes to get things done."

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can provide funds for repairs and rehabilitation, provide emergency rental housing for displaced families, and advance funds from future Community Development Block Grant allocations, Mr. Germroth said.

Mr. Schmoke thanked the individuals, businesses and agencies

that have helped storm victims. He cautioned that the worst of the ordeal might be people's impatience as they try to recover.

Indeed, impatient motorists loudly vented their frustration yesterday, blowing their horns while stuck in traffic jams caused by the barricading of East North Avenue, between Harford Road and Aisquith Street, where crews were tearing down storm-damaged houses.

"Getting people's lives together can be kind of a tougher task," Mr. Schmoke said. "So we're going to work as fast as we can to get people into permanent housing, to try to make people whole with clothing and other services."

The American Red Cross announced yesterday that it was keeping open two service centers for storm victims -- the West Greenmount Hub Center, 1634 Guilford Ave., and Unity United Methodist Church, 1433 Edmondson Ave. More than 350 people received shelter, meals, first aid and counseling at those sites and at centers in Anne Arundel and Carroll counties.

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