, Gloucester, MA

November 28, 2006

Romney seeks federal aid for Danvers explosion victims

By Edward Mason , Staff writer

BOSTON - The Romney administration yesterday sought federal relief for victims of last Wednesday's pre-dawn blast that leveled homes and businesses in Danvers.

Romney asked the U.S. Small Business Administration to declare an emergency in Danvers, which would free up millions of dollars in low-interest loans to help the North Shore town recover.

Small Business Administration assistance depends on at least 25 primary residences or businesses having at least 40 percent of their damages not covered by insurance.

Administration officials are also considering asking for a disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would help the town's government pay for the cost of clean-up and recovery. To receive the FEMA declaration, Danvers must have at least $7.7 million of damage to public buildings or overtime costs of police, fire and clean-up crews.

Late yesterday, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency chief Cristine McCombs met with Romney aides, Rep. Theodore C. Speliotis, D-Danvers, and a top aide to Sen. Frederick E. Berry, D-Peabody.

Peter Judge, a Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency spokesman, said his agency is confident Danvers met the SBA threshold but is still collecting data to show it can meet the FEMA requirement.

A Small Business Administration emergency declaration would let homeowners or renters borrow up to $200,000 from the SBA for real estate repairs, and as much as $40,000 to replace personal property. Business owners could borrow up to $1.5 million to fix damaged businesses. The loans come with low interest rates, 3 percent for individuals and 4 percent for businesses.

With a Federal Emergency Management Agency declaration, Danvers could get reimbursed for up to 75 percent of the cost of cleaning up the blast-ravaged area.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency spent the weekend compiling loss information from some 153 Danvers families and businesses. The state also had officials from the Massachusetts Division of Insurance visit Danvers to answer insurance questions.

After the May 12 flood, Romney asked for and received a federal disaster declaration for Essex, Middlesex and part of Suffolk counties.

So far, Massachusetts residents have received $71 million in federal assistance. Of that, municipal governments received $16 million in grants to cover their costs, while individual aid has totaled $14 million. The Small Business Administration made $41 million in low-interest loans to businesses and homeowners.

Massachusetts lawmakers are still working on a package of state financial aid for flood victims. A similar aid plan for Danvers residents and businesspeople is unlikely, Speliotis said.

Speliotis said people don't always have flood insurance but they do have coverage for events such as Wednesday's chemical explosion. They also may be able to sue CAI Inc. and Arnel Inc., the two companies that occupied the building where the explosion occurred, to recover some of their damages.