Just two weeks after thunderstorms and high winds caused flooding and damage across West Virginia – including parts of Pocahontas County – FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and the Small Business Administration [SBA] set up a Disaster Recovery Center at McClintic Library in Marlinton.
As one of the 12 DRCs in West Virginia, the site at the library was set up to offer assistance to individuals and businesses which suffered damage – large and small – from the storm.
Media specialist Troy York and DRC director Eileen Lopez explained the center gives individuals a centralized location to register with FEMA and find answers to the many questions they may have about their damage.
“We push the registration,” York said. “While you have the recovery center located nearby and you have people populating it that do this all the time, it’s easier and a lot of times, people feel a little more comfortable talking with a real person. They can ask questions and get answers.”
The site also assists individuals with recovery documents which may have been damaged, including deeds, insurance policies and more.
“We have faxing capabilities; we can make copies of all of your documents,” Lopez said. “If the documents are lost, we have phone numbers to guide them where they need to go.”
The most important thing all disaster victims need to do is register, both York and Lopez said. Once they are registered, inspectors visit their homes or businesses to assess the damage and help them apply for a FEMA grant.
“The monetary assistance that FEMA gives to individuals is in the form of a grant so it doesn’t have to be paid back,” York said. “It also does not influence your tax situation. It doesn’t have anything to do with any other government program you may be participating in. It totally stands alone, separate.”
Along with the DRC at the library, FEMA has Disaster Survivor Assistance [DSA] teams who go door-to-door in disaster areas to assist survivors who cannot go to the DRC to register.
“Most of the time they can register them in the field with the little piece of equipment they have,” York said. “But here, they are back on the stubby pencil method. The work they do is urgent because it’s immediate and it gets the people in the system and gets the assistance coming quickly.”
The registration is important because once the DRC leaves the area, survivors may be out of luck and unable to register at all due to a deadline. It will also help them if a issue with their home or business arises months after the disaster occurred.
“These events have a beginning and end period, so the quicker they come, the better because if they wait – the deadline may come around and come and go – if they put it off, they don’t get in on time,” York said. “Once they’ve passed the deadline, they can’t come in then and register.
“If they’ve registered, especially in flooding situations, and they’ve come in and talked about certain obvious problems that they’ve had, those are addressed,” he continued. “If they have a registration number and a month or two months beyond that period, there develops another problem as a result, they can come back with their registration number and they can connect again with FEMA and assess their situation, and try to get further help.”
Within a month of registration, folks will begin to receive letters from FEMA which will say if they have or have not been approved for a grant. York stresses that it is important to read the entire letter to make sure there was not an error in the registration process that needs to be corrected.
“We tell people, be very careful,” he said. “Read the letter in its entirety because a lot of people read that first line ‘we looked at your situation and unfortunately we don’t have any assistance for you,’ and trash it. It may be something simple like an address isn’t correct or they need a policy number or just a little bit of information. You can send it back or if the DRC is still in place, come in with your letter and let them help you.”
Along with grant assistance from FEMA, those who suffered loss may register with the SBA for low interest rate loans for businesses and homes.
Insurance payouts and FEMA grants don’t always cover all the damages suffered and so SBA offers loans which help cover the difference.
“We don’t want people to be misled by the name,” SBA Public Affairs Specialist Richard Daigle said. “We are Small Business Administration, but we help homeowners, renters and businesses. Basically, after you have your insurance money and your grant money, you may still have some major needs and that’s where we come into play. All these things kind of work together like pieces of a puzzle.”
The deadline to apply for a SBA loan is August 24, and Daigle wants flood victims to know they have options available beyond FEMA.
“Of course, the first step is always to register with FEMA,” he said. “The second thing is to make sure you follow through with SBA. For the homeowners, we can loan them up to $240,000; businesses up to $2 million; and renters up to $40,000. We want to make sure people take advantage of the money and the resources we have.”
Daigle said the important thing to remember is, just because the loan is approved, doesn’t mean the applicant has to accept it.
“If they apply and they are approved, there is a period of time they can sit on the fence and decide whether or not they want to use the loan,” he said. “If they’re not approved, then they are actually automatically referred back to FEMA where they may be able to get additional grant assistance.”
Many of the FEMA representatives are reservists and they are all well-versed in assisting victims of disasters. They travel all over the country and assist wherever FEMA is needed.
Lopez, of Dorado, Puerto Rico, actually became involved with FEMA for the first time as a disaster survivor.
“I happened to be in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989,” she said. “We were without water and electricity for about sixteen days. When FEMA came in, a lot of people knew I knew both languages [Spanish and English], so I was needed as an interpreter. That’s how I got the job.”
Lopez was not familiar with FEMA, but after she saw the assistance it gave to Puerto Rico and after lending a hand herself, she decided to join the rank.
“I didn’t make the decision right there and then,” she said. “I made the decision ten years later so I’ve been with FEMA since 1999. It’s been incredible. I could actually say which states I have not been to because I’ve been to a lot. I think I have five states I haven’t been to.”
Team members of the DSA – Dan Butcher, of Fort Worth, Texas, and Homer Nabors, of California, are both retirees who decided they wanted to continue to serve their country.
“Being a retired mailman – I was a walking mailman – and with what Homer and I do with the DSA, more often than not, we are actually walking,” Butcher said. “We go through the disaster area and knock on doors.”
Being a helping hand came natural to Butcher, who would always lend an ear and assistance to patrons on his mail route.
“I was always an advocate of one thing or another as a mailman with the patrons on my route,” he said. “If they had an issues, I’d say, ‘check with the VA; follow up with social security.’ Just a little something that they might not have been aware of.”
Butcher is also retired military, like Nabors, who retired from being a medic in the Navy.
“I was used to going to a new command every three years and I’ve always been a helper as a profession – I was medical for twenty-two years,” Nabors said. “Then I was sitting at home and I said, ‘I need something to do.’”
Having a nomadic career with the Navy made it easy for Nabors to adjust to going from state to state when needed by FEMA.
York, who retired from the Army, said retirement got just a little too boring for him, so he looked for a way to give back and found FEMA.
“I was a little bit bored with being retired,” he said. “It gets old and one day you realize, ‘is it Tuesday or Thursday?’ They all just kind of mold together. It was something to do, as well as being a way to help with things that are going on in the country.”
The FEMA DRCs which are open throughout West Virginia, 12 in total, have given a great deal of assistance, in such a short time.
As of Monday, 7,000 individuals have registered in the 12 counties with DRCs, with $27 million in grants approved and $25 million dispersed. In Pocahontas County, 74 individuals have registered and $44,000 in grants have been approved.
The DRC at McClintic Library is open Monday through Sunday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Individuals who cannot visit the center may register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or call the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362.
Those with a speech impediment or hearing loss and use TTY should call 1-800-462-7585 directly. For those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS) please call 1-800-621-3362.