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Emergency declaration will bring some help

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s Monday declaration of an emergency for the Snohomish County, Wash., mudslide will not bring financial aid for the victims and their families.

Instead, the president’s signing paved the way for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide “boots on the ground” assistance, such as search and rescue, and communications.

But getting federal help to individuals with temporary housing and other expenses will require a presidential declaration of a major disaster.

That won’t happen until Gov. Jay Inslee makes the request, and after his administration has had a chance to assess the full scope of destruction.

Major disasters must be extensive enough that state and local governments can’t cope on their own, said Karina Shagren, spokeswoman for the Washington Military Department, the coordinating agency for emergency and disaster responses.

Shagren said the state is compiling a damage assessment, but has been hampered by slow recovery efforts and limited access to the mudslide zone. A major-disaster declaration – typically granted for earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes – requires at least $9 million in damage to public buildings and infrastructure.

The state could separately seek help with private damages, which do not need to meet a specific dollar threshold.

But the impact on the community must be severe enough, according to FEMA, that “effective response is beyond the capabilities” of state and local agencies.

Specific forms of financial aid to individuals differ from disaster to disaster, said Marybeth O’Leary, a regional FEMA spokeswoman in Bothell, Wash. But they can include up to 18 months of housing and money for repairing and replacing homes.