FEMA brings hope to the flood-weary

Sep 4, 2008

Agents patrol neighborhoods to offer information on emergency assistance

By Julian Pecquet

Tallahassee Democrat--September 4, 2008

Federal and state officials were in Leon County on Wednesday to spread the word about the financial assistance that’s available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for victims of Tropical Storm Fay. A half-dozen agents from FEMA, the Florida State Emergency Response Team and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office walked the Timberlake neighborhood, talking to residents or leaving information on doorknobs.

"We’re here today to make sure that people have gotten the word about how to register with FEMA," said Nate Custer, a spokesman for the agency.

The news that federal aid was available was greeted enthusiastically by residents whose homes and garages had been flooded with contaminated water last week.

"They’ve really been instrumental in communicating with us, telling us what we need to do," said Jacqueline Suttle, whose 1999 Honda Accord, which was in her garage, was destroyed when water got all the way into the glove compartment. "I’m just going to follow their instructions and hopefully get some type of relief."

Her neighbor, Arthur Govan, had to wade into waist-deep water to get his 16-year-old daughter out of the home.

"It’s good news anytime you can save money, the way the economy is," Govan said. "But I hope people don’t make false claims."

The officials who visited the neighborhood were community-relations agents, there to inform people about the process for getting assistance from FEMA and what kind of aid is available.

FEMA’s housing-assistance grants are for primary residences. The maximum FEMA grant per home is $28,800, but on average it’s much lower — about $4,000 so far for Tropical Storm Fay damage, Custer said.

To get the grant process started, homeowners should call FEMA, which will send an application package and an inspector to their home within five to seven days.

Residents should photograph damaged property that they’re repairing or throwing away and keep all their receipts to show the inspector. After getting the inspector’s report, FEMA will send homeowners a check or make a direct deposit to their account.

Some of the things covered by FEMA are hotel stays while a home is uninhabitable, school supplies, vehicle repair or replacement and even food and clothing.

"When you get a really major disaster where maybe you were injured, some of those emergency medical or dental expenses (could be covered)," Custer said. "Or worst-case scenario, even if there’s a funeral expense for someone who has lost a family member in the disaster."

FEMA does not replace homeowner’s or flood insurance; it pays only for things that aren’t covered by the insurance.

FEMA aid is also available for people who don’t have insurance, but Custer said homeowners should still get insurance because individual assistance is available only when a county is covered by a presidential disaster declaration, as happened Sunday for Leon and Wakulla counties.

For extensive damage, or for rental properties, homeowners may want to take out a low-interest disaster loan from the Small Business Administration, which offers loans up to $200,000 for home repair or replacement. Homeowners and renters may also be eligible for loans of up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.

"The (FEMA) program is designed to get you back on the road to recovery," Custer said. "It isn’t about making you whole again to where you were the day before the flooding occurred."