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A crew removes tornado debris from northeast Jacksonville. Recovery efforts continue around Jacksonville as residents try to get their lives back to normal following an EF-3 tornado that struck the area back on March 19th. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has released $940,000 to the city of Jacksonville, the first of several expected payments to help cover recovery costs from the March 19 tornado.  

With the Jacksonville payment, total FEMA aid has now topped $6.65 million for Alabama communities affected by the tornado, according to a FEMA press release.

The press release states that FEMA recently granted the $940,000 to the state of Alabama, which in turn will soon give the money to the city to help with storm debris removal costs.

Mayor Johnny Smith said confirmation of the first aid payment was like a big weight being lifted of his shoulders.

“It’s pretty exciting that they were able to do it this quick,” Smith said. “We appreciate FEMA … we don’t have the money yet, but we’re getting it soon.”

The city only recently submitted its first reimbursement request to FEMA for $1.26 million that has been spent so far on debris cleanup. FEMA officials have said the agency would reimburse the city up to 75 percent of recovery costs.

Smith has estimated total debris removal would cost the city $4 million. The city has already emptied $3 million from a savings account to cover debris removal spending while it waits for federal reimbursements.

“Hopefully this first payment will be the first of several,” Smith said of FEMA.

The city is the second entity to get a big FEMA check in the area because of the tornado. The agency awarded a $755,000 grant to Jacksonville State University last month for debris removal cost reimbursement.

Also, since July 8, individual FEMA assistance grants have surpassed $696,000 to homeowners in Calhoun, Cullman, Etowah and St. Clair Counties impacted by the tornado. More than 640 damaged properties have been inspected in those four counties.

And besides FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration has approved more than $4.25 million in low-interest disaster loans for homeowners, renters, businesses and nonprofits.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.