Video: Hurricane loophole

By Kerry Sanders Correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/12/2004 7:39:30 PM ET 2004-10-12T23:39:30

Jim Williams spent Tuesday inside his hurricane damaged home. But his Indian River County trailer is unlivable. Like so many in this state, he's turned to FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency — to help him get by.

More than one billion dollars in hurricane aide has been distributed so far. So where’s the money going?

Two reporters at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper analyzed the government statistics and discovered FEMA's given Miami-Dade County $21.5 million to cope with Hurricane Frances.  That’s almost twice what FEMA has distributed in hard-hit Indian River County following the same hurricane.

What's surprising about that?

"I live in Miami-Dade County and during Frances people were out in the storm, I went back and forth to work," says Sun-Sentinel report Sally Kestin. "It wasn't exactly a day at the beach, but there wasn't any damage."

Along the Indian River County coastline, Hurricane Frances came ashore with 105-mile-per-hour winds. The National Weather Service says when Frances came ashore, Miami-Dade experienced sustained winds of only 43 miles per hour and rainfall of three-and-a-half inches — what Floridians would call a severe thunderstorm.

Yet more than 19,500 Miami Dade residents have applied for FEMA aid. Because the applications are private, it's unclear who the victims are requesting federal money.

"We don't understand. Who are these people? Where are they? Where's the damage?" says Sun-Sentinel reporter Megan O'Matz.

FEMA says it's premature to look at who's getting the money and where it's going because the application process is still underway.

"Our processes that we have established ensure that only legitimate disaster victims' claims are honored," says FEMA spokesman Justo Hernandez.

Congressman Mark Foley, R-Fla., who toured the damage in his district on Tuesday, says he'll make sure that's the case.

"If people were illegally or improperly reimbursed, we want to to get those monies back," says Rep. Foley.

As for Jim Williams, he says it all just seems so unfair.

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