Bush Declares Major Disaster for Flooded Ohio Counties

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Residents of heavily flooded north-central Ohio can begin applying Tuesday for federal grants that will cover the cost of temporary housing and home repairs.

President Bush has declared the region a major disaster, a move that also allows the federal government to offer low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

The declaration came Monday, a day after Gov. Ted Strickland toured the region with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, where residents continue to clean out their homes and businesses damaged by last week's record flooding.

Bush's action makes funding available for homeowners, renters and business owners in Allen, Crawford, Hancock, Putnam, Richland and Wyandot counties.

"I appreciate President Bush's swift response to our request for individual assistance," Strickland said. "We will continue to work closely with the administration to ensure we meet the needs of suffering Ohio families, businesses and public sector institutions."

The recovery process for some towns, such as Findlay and Bucyrus, which were hit by the worst flooding in nearly a century, will be lengthy and extensive, said Tom Hunter, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

"For some folks it's going to be months if not years to return for their families to return to normalcy," he said.

Bush last week signed disaster declarations for parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin after FEMA assessments there. Storms and flooding are blamed for at least 18 deaths across the upper Midwest.

Removing the mammoth piles of trash and debris is a top priority for the city of Findlay, said Mike Sobczyk, the city's service director. The Hancock County Landfill took 900 tons of trash on Saturday alone, he said.

"We'd go down some streets and a little while later you'd think we'd never been down there," Sobczyk said. "It's amazing how much people lost."

Floodwaters have receded in the heavily flooded village of Ottawa and surrounding Putnam County, said Josh Walters, assistant coordinator for the Putnam Emergency Management Agency. He said about 1,000 homes in the county were affected by the high waters, and disaster estimates are expected to rise as residents continue to pump out their flooded basements.

It may take three weeks or more for crews from the county garage, city street department and Ohio Department of Transportation to pick up all the debris and trash.

"We've got a long ways to go," he said.

A boil-water advisory remains in effect, and bottled water is being made available to residents. Officials from the Ohio and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are working to clean up an oil spill in a creek that is a tributary of the Blanchard River, Walters said.

The cost of the flood to communities and residents is just starting to be calculated, local officials said.