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FEMA pays Hernando $800,000

As Hernando County begins to recover financially from the March storm that devastated the Gulf coast, officials look ahead to the next tropical tempest.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reimbursed the county partially for costs and damages incurred by the March 13 storm.

Tonight at 7, weather and insurance experts will speak at a hurricane preparedness forum at Springstead High School.

Roy Leep, meteorologist for WTVT-Ch. 13 in Tampa, is scheduled as the forum's keynote speaker.

"We want people to be able to support themselves for 72 to 96 hours in the event of another serious storm," said Dave Sloan, county emergency management director. The hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

FEMA last week paid the county about $800,000 for expenses and losses that resulted from the storm that left one Hernando man dead and hundreds homeless. It was the first installment of federal money.

The payment included deductibles for insured damages to the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department, the Hernando County Port Authority, and Pine Island and Bayport parks.

In April, county officials sent a list of projects to Washington, D.C. FEMA approved the estimated $1,750,212 worth of projects, but the agency is obligated to reimburse only 75 percent.

The state could pay the other 25 percent, split it with the county or simply let the county absorb it.

Among the 39 projects approved for reimbursement by FEMA:

Removal of storm debris from roads, canals and county parks;

Repairs and replacement of people's boats commandeered by the Spring Hill Fire and Rescue District for rescue efforts;

Repairs to the concrete bulkhead that holds the beach at Pine Island;

And repairs to damaged county buildings and equipment.

FEMA also reimbursed the county library system for $3,500 worth of books lost or destroyed by the storm. Those books had been checked out by coastal residents before the storm.

The Red Cross paid the county $2,800 for phone lines installed at the Coast Guard Auxiliary building in Hernando Beach. The Small Business Association, which still is accepting loan applications at the government center on Forest Oaks Boulevard in Spring Hill, also reimbursed the county for rent and phone lines.

A $190,000 check was cut this week for Sheriff Thomas Mylander's office, for overtime and damages to patrol vehicles.

"We have to make sure the sheriff gets his money quickly because he carries a gun, you know," said Laura Beagles of the county emergency management office.

Next Friday, Mylander and other county officials are expected to attend a strategy session in the County Commission chambers in the government complex in Brooksville. The guest speaker will be Robert Balfour of the National Weather Service.

During the three-hour meeting, county emergency management officials will outline the roles each department should play in a hurricane or other severe storms.

Tonight's session in Springstead High School's cafeteria is supposed to serve a similar purpose for the public. It is not meant as an invitation to rehash problems cited after the March 13 storm, Beagles said.

Commissioners already have held two forums about that storm. In those meetings, coastal residents complained about a lack of warning that the sea would surge 13 feet, flooding homes, destroying automobiles and overturning boats.

Authorities replied that the March storm surprised everyone, but that the outcome could have been much worse.

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