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Political aftershocks over denial of quake aid to Virginia

October 10, 2011 | 10:42 am

New quake 
Seven weeks after a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake jolted the East Coast, political aftershocks are reverberating after FEMA denied aid to the Virginia county at the epicenter of the temblor.

About 1,000 homes in Louisa County were damaged in the Aug. 23 quake, including a number that are uninhabitable, according to state officials, who estimate the damage at more than $80 million.

A high school and elementary school have been closed because of damage. High school students are sharing the middle school campus with students attending class on longer, alternating days.  Temporary structures were brought in for the displaced elementary school students.

Yet FEMA has determined that the damage to dwellings "was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the commonwealth, affected local governments and voluntary agencies," the agency's director, W. Craig Fugate, said in a letter to Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell.

"If damage from a once-in-a-generation, 5.8-magnitude earthquake does not qualify for federal disaster relief, then I don’t know what does," Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement.

Louisa County was in the national spotlight the day of the quake, but county officials say the attention has faded as damage to the Washington Monument and Washington National Cathedral attracted more sustained notice.

"Our 15 minutes went real quick," Louisa County Supervisor Willie L. Harper remarked in an interview Monday.

McDonnell vowed to appeal FEMA's decision to the White House if necessary.

"Disaster relief and public safety are core functions of the federal government," he said in a statement. "Unfortunately, volunteer groups are ill-equipped to repair earthquake damage and while state and local officials are doing everything they can, federal assistance is necessary in ensuring that affected Virginians are able to get their homes back in working order and get back on their feet again."

 McDonnell is seeking assistance such as low-interest loans for homeowners, renters and businesses, unemployment assistance, disaster housing assistance and crisis counseling.

The epicenter of the earthquake was near the town of Mineral in Louisa County.

"This is the kind of disaster where federal assistance is justified and very much needed," said Bob Spieldenner of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said in an interview Monday.

"We’ve got some people who are living in homes they shouldn’t be living in,’’ he added.

Harper called FEMA's decision a "great disappointment" but said officials were gathering additional information in hopes of persuading the agency to reconsider its decision.

"Some homes are completely off foundations,’’ he said.


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-- Richard Simon reporting from Washington

Photo: A sign in Mineral, Va., after the Aug. 23 earthquake. Credit: Getty Images