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Congressman Neal tours region in wake of disaster

Date: 6/14/2011

June 13, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — Congressman Richard Neal said during a tour of the American Red Cross offices set up to coordinate the tornado relief that he thinks the federal government will declare the area a disaster zone soon.

Neal said that he has been speaking with William Daley, President Barack Obama's chief of staff, about the matter.

Neal explained the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must make assessments to determine if the threshold of damage has been met before the president can make the designation. Once it is declared, additional federal monies through FEMA will be available for recovery and rebuilding.

Neal said he has been through the communities hit by the tornado in his district including Monson, Brimfield, Charlton, as well as Springfield and Wilbraham.

Richard Lee, executive director of the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter, explained to Neal that many of the people in the temporary offices on Cottage Street were from the national organization and were specialists in tornado disaster recovery.

Some of the personnel had come from around the nation; with some fresh from relief efforts in recently hit Joplin, Mo., he said.

"This is an unprecedented event for Western Massachusetts," Lee said.

He explained that the Red Cross is working closely with other organizations such as the Salvation Army, the Open Pantry, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the United Way of the Pioneer Valley, in dealing with the aftermath of the severe storm.

"This is such a big job and we need all the help we can get but it has to be coordinated," Lee said. He added the distribution of food and goods has to be "very military-esque."

Lee said other organizations, such as the Salvation Army, has expertise in tasks such as the distribution of clothing to victims that the Red Cross does not have.

Right now, although donations of food and others items are needed, what would be the most effective aid is money to either the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, Lee added.

"Right now, money is most important," Lee said.

People wishing to make a $10 donation to the Red Cross may do so by sending a text message to 90999 with the word "Redcross."

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