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BELTON — Bell County residents will now have more time to file for federal and state benefits following an extension of last week’s county disaster declaration.

The disaster declaration, which was issued by Bell County Judge David Blackburn last week, was unanimously extended by the Commissioners Court during an emergency meeting Monday. The declaration, related to last week’s historically cold weather, will now extend to March 16.

Blackburn said the extension of the order will allow residents and businesses to more easily access disaster funds from the federal and state governments.

“In order to maximize our residents ability to have access to federal funds and state funds, an adherence to the disaster recovery and disaster declaration is needed,” Blackburn said. “My suggestion is to extend the declaration to March 16. That is 30 days from the day of issuance, and that should provide enough times for property owners to assess and submit claims.”

County residents are able to file for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after first filing insurance claims through their existing policies.

Blackburn said FEMA will need a resident’s phone number, address at time of disaster and current address, Social Security number, a list of damages and losses due to the weather and insurance information.

Those seeking assistance can go online through disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362 if they don’t have an internet connection.

Local business can also apply for low-interest federal disaster loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Gov. Greg Abbott also announced Monday that Milam County would be one of 31 additional counties added to the President’s Major Disaster Declaration for Individual Assistance. President Joe Biden had previously approved 77 other counties — including Bell County — for the assistance.

Abbott urged state residents to fill out the Texas Division of Emergency Management’s Texas Individual Assistance Reporting Tool to identify damages across the state.

“I thank FEMA for their swift approval of these additional counties and for their continued partnership as we ensure Texans have access to relief following the winter storm,” Abbott said. “I urge Texans to use the Texas Individual Assistance Reporting Tool so that the state can continue to identify damages and fight for the crucial assistance that our communities need.”

The National Weather Service said the closest area they had historic weather data for was Waco.

Last week’s cold, on Feb. 16 broke Waco’s record for the lowest temperature of 18 degrees set in 1909. The city had seen a temperature of 5 degrees.

Temple similarly saw low temperatures, with the same day recording 1 degree weather at the city’s airport.

Blackburn said unprecedented seemed to be an inadequate word to describe the record-breaking cold.

“Records that have stood since the records have been kept were all broken,” Blackburn said. “It was the longest, coldest stretch ever recorded here in Bell County.”

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