Groups turn to hotels to shelter fire evacuees amid virus

Jonathan Thompson of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce delivers donated bottled water to the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, which is now an evacuation center as wildfires threaten towns in Oregon. 

SALEM — Oregon’s congressional delegation is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to immediately make available “the greatest possible range of assistance programs as requested by (Gov. Kate Brown)” to help people displaced by raging wildfires and pay for emergency response and recovery work.

In a letter sent Saturday, Sept. 12, the delegation asked FEMA to begin approving extensive aid that is usually freed up when the president declares a major disaster. The state has asked President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster in Oregon and is waiting for a decision, the federal lawmakers noted. Trump on Sept. 10 took the initial step of issuing an emergency disaster declaration for the state, days after the governor declared a statewide emergency due to the wildfires. The emergency disaster declaration does not trigger aid to individuals.

Congressional lawmakers pointed out that “tens of thousands of Oregonians have been placed under evacuation orders, and hundreds have already lost their homes.”

“We also request that FEMA waive current state cost share requirements to help quickly move unsheltered individuals to safety and make sure that survivors have stable, affordable accommodations as they strive to recover,” the delegation wrote.

They specifically asked FEMA to immediately offer help including paying for hotels or other shelter for people who lost their homes or are under evacuation orders. They also asked federal officials to extend individual assistance to people for housing and other needs and disaster assistance to local, state and tribal governments and certain nonprofits to restore infrastructure, remove debris, carry out life-saving work and other measures.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden urged FEMA to quickly issue assistance to “protect the health and safety of people experiencing displacement and houselessness, and to secure housing stability for the lowest-income survivors displaced by the wildfires in Oregon.”

Under the emergency disaster declaration, FEMA has so far sent search and rescue teams, emergency response vehicles and tractor trailers of meals, water, cots and blankets to the state, according to an agency news release.

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