Gov. Ted Kulongoski and FEMA representatives arrived in this remote, flood-battered town Sunday after federal officials announced an immediate $1 million for road repair to five Oregon counties and disaster assistance to residents and businesses in two of those counties following last week's storms.
Vernonia, a logging town in the Coast Range, was among the hardest-hit.
"We're glad you're here. We need all the help we can get. A lot or people lost everything they had," city administrator Aldie Howard told the visitors after their two Blackhawk helicopters landed in a soccer field.
The party toured three heavily damaged schools. The high school gym, waist-deep in water a week ago, is in ruins. Heaps of flood-damaged textbooks and furniture are piled outside the buildings.
Vernonia School Superintendent Kenneth Cox sought state and federal aid to move all three schools to higher ground.
"My concern is, how do you do this without putting a $30 million bond on the backs of the local people," Cox said.
"We can work with you on that," FEMA assistant director Carlos Castillo replied.
Kulongoski said it would take a partnership among governments to do the job.
"The intent is to encourage smarter rebuilding," he said.
Vernonia students in grades 6-12 will attend schools in Scappoose beginning Tuesday. Younger students will attend classes set up in Vernonia churches.
From the air most of the flood waters appeared to be gone but on the ground heavy damage was evident following last week's storms that brought winds of more than 125 mph to parts of the Oregon coast and more than 10 inches of rain to some areas.
As Kulongoski toured the town, occupants of a passing pickup called out, "Hi, Ted." "Hi, guys," the governor responded.
He visited the town's Sentry Market, in ruins a week ago but now open. Owner Chuck Hendryx thanked Kulongoski for sending 30 inmates from various institutions last week to help in recovery efforts.
"If it wasn't for that crew we wouldn't be in business. It's the best thing you could have done," Hendryx said.
For a time Vernonia was completely cut off from the outside by road closures and communication failures.
The road assistance aid was announced by Thomas Barrett, deputy U.S. Secretary of Transportation. He and Castillo spoke at a news conference in Portland before the helicopters departed.
A scheduled stop in Astoria and a fly-over of coastal areas on the north coast with timber damage were canceled because of bad weather. Kulongoski's spokeswoman Patty Wentz said the cancellation would not affect any FEMA aid for Clatsop County.
The government on Saturday declared a federal disaster for 11 counties Oregon and Washington, clearing the way for recovery assistance to public entities in Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, Tillamook and Yamhill counties in Oregon.
Federal officials also said recovery assistance will be given to individual residents and businesses in Columbia and Tillamook counties. That will include money for temporary housing, jobless benefits, emergency food stamps and low-interest loans.
No dollar amount for the individual help was announced. County officials are still calculating losses. Help for residents and businesses in other counties is expected to be announced soon.
FEMA has opened a registration line for Tillamook and Columbia county residents at 1-800-621-FEMA and encouraged residents who suffered losses to register regardless of insurance.
Residents of other counties were told to wait until their counties were approved for individual aid, otherwise their applications would be delayed.
FEMA announces relief for Oregon flood areas