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Agencies will survey Southcentral Alaska home damage in step toward post-quake federal aid

Eagle River homeowner Duncan Whitney, left, and structural engineer Jake Horazdovsky walk around Whitney's home during an inspection Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. Whitney removed cracked drywall from his home's most-damaged room, looking for hidden structural damage. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Alaskans whose homes were damaged in Friday’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake may be one step closer to getting relief.

Next week, a coalition of government agencies will start taking inventory of residential damage throughout the region, state and federal officials said Wednesday. Mike Sutton, director of Alaska Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said teams of inspectors will visit a sample of “damaged and unlivable” homes throughout Anchorage, the Mat-Su Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The earthquake spurred a chain reaction of property damage as fires ignited, buildings flooded and homes collapsed. Most Alaskans don’t have earthquake insurance, which is expensive and not typically included in homeowners insurance.

The assessment is an important step toward getting individual federal disaster assistance, Sutton said. Once the information is submitted to the federal government, aid is not guaranteed, but Sutton said it’s rare that it doesn’t get approved. President Donald Trump promised via Twitter on Friday to “spare no cost” for Alaskans affected by the quake.

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, who visited the region Tuesday to survey the earthquake damage, have announced a supplemental funding bill to aid in earthquake recovery, according to Radio Kenai. Murkowski spoke on the Senate floor about the cleanup effort Wednesday.

“Alaskans were prepared — just as you would expect us to be. We are tough, resilient and will come back from this stronger than ever,” Murkowski said.

[Find all of our earthquake coverage here]

In the meantime, state grants are already available for people dealing with the costs of the earthquake. Under the Individual Assistance Program, eligible applicants can receive up to $17,450 in nontaxable state aid to cover damage to their main home, vehicle and essential belongings, as well as medical and dental expenses incurred because of the earthquake. The money can also be used toward an earthquake insurance deductible, state officials said. The deadline to apply is Jan. 29.

Eagle River homeowner Duncan Whitney takes a picture of a level, held by structural engineer Jake Horazdovsky, that shows an out-of-plumb wall in Whitney's home on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

A separate temporary housing program is also available for those who can no longer safely live in their home. The program covers homeowners for up to 18 months and renters for up to three months. Eligibility for temporary housing is determined by the application for the Individual Assistance Program.

If federal assistance is approved, those whose homes have been damaged can apply for that funding on top of state aid. FEMA will contact applicants within 10 days after applications are submitted. Applicants may need to submit an insurance settlement or denial if their damages are insured before a FEMA home inspection can be scheduled. Applicants should save repair receipts and take pictures of damage, state officials said.

The exact number of houses to be inspected in Anchorage and overall is still unknown, but a representative from the state said there are an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 to be inspected in Mat-Su alone.

Anchorage City Manager Bill Falsey said the assessment won’t be easy.

“It’s going to be a challenge to get this roving team of inspectors to the primary locations, especially considering there is no off-the-shelf roving team of inspectors,” Falsey said. “We are making this up in real time.”

The list of homes will be compiled from a combination of applications for state aid and information from borough and municipal governments.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed information about inspections to Michael O’Hare, regional administrator for FEMA. That information came from Mike Sutton, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for Alaska.

A home in Eagle River is badly damaged Saturday morning, Dec. 1, 2018. The house, which was partly built on fill, suffered severe problems during a strong earthquake that shook southcentral Alaska on Friday. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

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