FEMA: Hundreds seeking federal aid via smartphones


Undeon Hardy cuts a section of a pine tree that damaged a home in Longino, Miss., on April 27. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
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As of last night, 798 storm survivors in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee had registered for federal dollars using FEMA’s smartphone applications, the agency is set to report Thursday.

The numbers pale in comparison with the 43,186 people who have registered for assistance via telephone and the 8,925 who did so by visiting DisasterAssistance.gov.

But aides said FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate, a prolific Twitter user (using the handle @CraigatFEMA), is expected to tell a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee Thursday that the growing numbers of people using phones to apply for assistance is proof that his agency is finding new ways to quickly approve and distribute money after disasters.

Since Fugate took office in 2009, FEMA has launched a mobile site (m.fema.gov), and the agency said its smartphone aid application now permits people to search for nearby disaster recovery centers on their phone.

President Obama on Wednesday added Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee to the list of states eligible for federal disaster assistance. The dollars approved so far are going to residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, according to FEMA.

Even more aid might be needed in the coming weeks: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Wednesday that there were more than 600 tornadoes in April, surpassing the previous one-month record of 542 twisters in May 2003. But May is historically the most active month for tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service.

Of the April twisters, government experts have determined that two of them topped the scale at EF-5, four were EF-4, and 21 were EF-3. Dozens of others registered EF-2 or lower.

NWS said there have been an estimated 881 tornadoes in 2011. The annual tornado record is 1,817, set in 2004.

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Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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