Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor toured Louisa High School and stopped into a local grocery, Miller’s Market, in Mineral on Wednesday afternoon.
“The tour today was fairly revealing,’’ McDonnell (R) told reporters at a news conference outside the fire station. “The damage is more widespread and more significant than the preliminary reports that we had gotten yesterday. The great blessing out of this seems to be with an event of this proportion on the East Coast that there were no significant injuries. It appears, though, that there is going to a long recovery period for businesses, homeowners, schools and others.”
“This is a different kind of damage than I saw with the tornados,’’ McDonnell added. “That is a clear catastrophic damage that hits you right away. This type of damage may take a longer time to access than a hurricane or tornado. So we’re going to make to take a little time to access.”
McDonnell pledged to find state money for earthquake victims, but said he knows state aid is limited. He said the state could pay for overtime for first responders, damage to public infrastructure and equipment.
“We know there are some things that we can do,’’ McDonnell said. “We don’t have a direct program for state program available for people that are either underinsured or uninsured.”
Earlier Wednesday, McDonnell announced that he would make permanent a new fund to collect private donations for emergencies. Already, $1.7 million has been collected to help victims of the April tornadoes in Southwest Virginia that killed 10 and caused millions of dollars in damage. About $1.1 million has been donated. McDonnell has proposed an additional $600,000 from the state’s surplus.
“The businesspeople have heartbreaking stories that, after talking to the insurance company, they don’t seem to have an immediate remedy to be able to recoup what will be hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory and structure of buildings,” McDonnell said.
“I make a pledge to the people of Louisa and Mineral that we are going to do everything at the state level to provide the relief that’s necessary,” he added. “There is a process that will have to be gone through in the next weeks and days to help the citizens.’’
Col. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, has been in Mineral since Tuesday.
McDonnell comments on specific issue, below:
On the lack of earthquake insurance:
“That’s a decision everyone has to make. This is a once-in-a-114-year event. It’s the largest East Coast event in 67 years. Everyone has to make a decision, whether or not it’s a prudent investment, given that it’s a relatively unlikely event.”
On Northern Virginia/D.C. evacuations and traffic mess:
“Unfortunately the federal government, after having the prudent decision to evacuate of a number of buildings, decided to let virtually the entire workforce go at the same time, and I can’t tell you what that does for the traffic and the Metro. It was an incredible overload. The same thing happened during the snowstorms in January of last year. I think we need to probably think through that planning. Again, putting public safety first, is there a better way to do some of these things instead of hours and hours of additional congestion?”
Cantor (R) was leading a 60-person congressional delegation to Israel when he heard the news about the earthquake on his BlackBerry while attending a dinner with 30 others at a restaurant in Jerusalem. He came back on the first flight and arrived just in time for the tour of Mineral.
“I quickly decided that I had to get home to make sure I could do anything I could,’’ Cantor said at the news conference. “Looking at the damage today in the high school, it was significant.”
“We pull together,” he added. “We are can-do people. And we’ll get through this.”
Cantor said a process is underway to determine the extent of the damage, and if the cost is more than the state has, Virginia can apply for federal aid.
“There is a federal process that is already underway to assess the damage and to see the way forward for those people and those businesses that may not have earthquake insurance, which is probably not uncommon,” Cantor said. “Obviously most people in Virginia and this area don’t have earthquake coverage. When there is a disaster like this, the federal government has a role. Those monies will be offset.”