MARYSVVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Piles of splintered wood line the winding roads where homes once stood in this southern Indiana town. The rolling green hills are scarred by stripped trees that stand like gaunt fingers.
And although students bounded into a rebuilt school on their first day of classes Tuesday, many residents in the tornado-torn countryside are still waiting for a fresh start.
Five months after a deadly tornado ripped through the area, many rural residents whose homes were leveled are still living in modular homes bought with federal disaster aid. Others are living in rental properties paid for by relief organizations. And some have no homes at all.
"We've identified way more need than we have money to help," said Carolyn King, executive director of the relief group March2Recovery, which with the help of a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment stepped in to help those still in need after insurance and other forms of assistance run out.
The group operates out of a small revamped house behind the Roman Catholic church in Henryville, which suffered the brunt of the damage when the storm barreled through on March 2. King estimates that about 60 people remain without shelter in the three-county area served by her group. About 300 more need other forms of assistance such as home repairs or furnishings, but those without homes come first.
"They're at a frustrated stage," King said. "Everybody sees winter coming, and that scares people."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved nearly $1.7 million to fund expenses not covered by insurance or other programs, such as temporary rental assistance or replacing essential household items. FEMA has received 1,526 applications for help, and with nearly 700 inspections completed so far, only 281 of those applications have been approved, according to the agency.
But some people said it hasn't been nearly enough. Locals still trying to restore or replace what's left of their property don't understand why the government, in particular FEMA, didn't offer more help.
"I've been a taxpayer all my life, and FEMA is supposed to help people in a disaster," said 67-year-old Richard Crace, who said he received about $3,000 from FEMA even though his house suffered $47,000 in damage after a tree fell on the roof and tornadic winds knocked out every window.
"I appreciate the $3,000, but that was nothing," he said. "That was just the shingles."
Crace had no insurance, and he got a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration to make up the difference. Still, he believes he's better off than many others, nothing that "a lot of people got nothing."
Officials said some people don't understand how federal disaster aid works, especially that FEMA aid was never intended to pay all damage costs. Small Business Administration spokeswoman Kathy Cook said FEMA handles short-term relief for expenses that aren't otherwise covered, while SBA provides low-interest loans to cover uninsured losses and up to $200,000 to pay for rebuilding to aid long-term recovery.
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