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State creates fund to help people dealing with storm damage

A “resilience fund” for Delawareans hit hard by bad weather never got anywhere when it was proposed following a tornado that struck Laurel in April 2019. 

Bad back-to-backs storms pushed that issue to the forefront this month, with Gov. John Carney on Thursday signing Executive Order 44 to reallocate funding from the Delaware Department of Transportation and other sources.

How much is available was not addressed in the bill-signing ceremony broadcast in a Facebook Live. No one said how to apply for money or how the program will work.

In an announcement that followed the signing, the state said that DEMA “will coordinate with community organizations to assist families in making qualifying repairs to homes and properties that are not covered by homeowner’s insurance. DEMA also will work with community organizations to establish a process for citizens to submit requests for aid.”

A.J. Schall Jr., director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, said 400 homes were damaged by the August storms, with 100 suffering major or total damage, sending residents to seek alternative housing.

Although Delaware and federal officials are still assessing the damage, he predicted it will be greater than Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

The Delaware Department of Transportation has already spent $1 million on repairs from the August storms, according to Jennifer Cohan, director of agency. Some roads are still closed.

Carney referred to Delawareans applying to DEMA and DelDOT for help. 

The virtual signing ceremony featured Carney, a Democrat, and four of the 38 Democrats in the state Legislature, but none of the 24 Republicans.

Sen. Stephanie Hansen, who represents part of southern New Castle County, said some residents were struggling to pay for repairs and worried that their homeowners insurance did not cover repairs because the damage came from wind.

“We’re at a time when we need to be resilient, when we need to be strong,” said Rep. Krista Griffith, who represents suburban areas north of Wilmington. Without the help from the fund, “they’re on their own.”

Some displaced residents are living in hotels and cooking on hot plates, because they can’t find short-term rentals, said Andria Bennett, who represents the Dover area.

Bennett cited insurance that lacked tree riders and hence didn’t pay out.