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Ice Storm Recovery Update

January 15, 2007
Weekly Columns

Last year was a remarkable Centennial year for Oklahoma for a number of reasons. But one unfortunate way it will be remembered is another year that Mother Nature hammered down on the heartland.  Oklahomans are no stranger to this type of suffering.  Last year alone Oklahomans dealt with the aftermath of severe flooding in the summertime and started and ended the year with a series of severe ice storms.  Fortunately, citizens from our state are dedicated to seeing neighborhoods and businesses cleaned up as quickly as possible after the latest series of ice storms.  Now that the recovery effort is underway it is important for Oklahomans to follow through with clean-up procedures and guard themselves against disaster-related fraud attempts.

Last week when I was working in Oklahoma, I had the opportunity to meet with metro-area officials who are overseeing their city's debris pick-up processes.  Most of the affected cities have finished cleaning up the debris that was blocking major waterways, drainage ditches, highways and entrances to city buildings.  Now that those public areas are cleaned, cities are scheduling debris pick-ups for individual homes and neighborhoods. 

In reality, some areas of the state only experienced minor damages while others have had to pay millions of dollars to remove damaged tree limbs and other wreckage.  At this point in time, the President has offered financial assistance to some counties to help repay the costs accumulated from contracting with companies to clean up the storm debris.  Although the President approved assistance for those counties, individual assistance has not been approved at this point in time.

It is evident that many Oklahomans are eager to clean up their property.  Even though it may be tempting to contract with anyone available, it is important to take the proper steps to safeguard against unlicensed or dishonest individuals who are offering to remove the debris.  First, it is important to ask for identification and proof of insurance from a contractor.  Homeowners need to protect themselves from being liable for damages if an accident occurs on their property.  Second, it is important to know that FEMA representatives and federal contractors are not allowed to accept money for their help.  Any federal official who seeks payment for services rendered needs to be reported immediately.  Third, Oklahomans should put safeguards in place by asking for a written guarantee and contract that outlines the costs, timeline and payment schedule for picking up debris.  Finally, it is critical to report anyone who seems suspicious or potentially fraudulent.  Suspected fraud can be reported at a local Better Business Bureau or by calling the FEMA fraud hotline at 1-866-720-5721.

It is evident that Oklahomans have great pride in their State.  I am always impressed after any disaster how quickly citizens try to rebuild and reclaim their communities.  Please know I will continue to work with the Governor, FEMA and local officials to see that the debris clean-up process is fully completed in the 4th district.