FEMA arrives in Ahoskie

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 6, 2003

AHOSKIE – By 11:15 a.m. here Saturday morning, 19 names dotted the check-in list at the Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) set-up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Others filed in shortly before high noon, all curious of what the Federal government has to offer in the way of assistance in the wake of Hurricane Isabel.

Joan Gagnon, a native of Boston now living in Florida, manned one of the DRC assistance desks within the Ahoskie Recreation Center. As the manager of the Ahoskie location, she was in the process of completing paperwork on one area couple applying for aid before ushering them to another desk where further assistance was available.

&uot;It’s been like this all morning, people coming in that were hit hard by this storm,&uot; said Gagnon as she took a brief break to grant an interview with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. &uot;That’s what we’re here for, to provide what assistance we can offer as well as help those affected by this hurricane locate the resources that most fits their needs.&uot;

Gagnon said most applicants were in search of supplemental assistance of items not covered or underpaid by the homeowner’s insurance policy.

&uot;We can help with unmet needs,&uot; she noted. &uot;All we need is a copy of the insurance settlement and we can take it from there. Often times a policyholder may not be aware that certain things are not covered. In other instances, they may not have enough coverage or no insurance coverage at all.&uot;

But before anyone can meet face-to-face with a DRC official, they first must apply for assistance by calling 800-621-3362. For those with speech or hearing impairments, they are urged to call (TTY) 800-462-7585. Until further notice, both lines are open 7 a.m. until midnight, seven days per week.

All DRC centers have a bank of telephones for application purposes. Callers will be given a control number, one they can use to apply for assistance.

&uot;The control number helps us in properly expediting the process,&uot; stressed Gagnon. &uot;With their personal information already recorded, we can put them on the right track and point them in the right direction.&uot;

FEMA is not alone in this process. The Ahoskie DRC, like others that have opened in northeastern North Carolina, offers hazard mitigation assistance – preventive measures homeowners can use to protect property and belongings in the event of another storm – as well as assistance from the Hertford County Interfaith Council, the Small Business Administration and state agencies.

For Gagnon, this marks her second, storm disaster trip to eastern North Carolina.

&uot;I was here in 1999 after Hurricane Floyd,&uot; stated Gagnon, who has worked DRC’s from coast to coast since 1995.

Gagnon also clarified a few rumors circulating concerning what FEMA would cover.

&uot;The most asked question is will we pay for generators,&uot; she said. &uot;My answer is, maybe, but they won’t know if we’ll pay or not unless they apply. The decision is not mine. I take the information and forward it to my superiors and they make the decision. My advice would be to turn in your bill of sale for a generator and hope it’s approved.&uot;

The Ahoskie DRC is scheduled to be open daily from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. at least through Saturday, Oct. 11. Another local DRC at the Bertie County Council on Aging office, located at 103 School St. in Windsor, lists the same hours of operation through Oct. 11.

In the meantime, FEMA has issued a press release in regards to misleading rumors, half-truths and misunderstandings about available assistance may cause some hurricane-struck residents to disqualify themselves from much-needed help.

Recovery officials voiced concern that unreliable word-of-mouth in distressed neighborhoods and communities may deprive eligible individuals and households of vital aid from the state of North Carolina and FEMA.

&uot;The last thing you need in a disaster is misinformation,&uot; said Federal Coordinating Officer Gracia Szczech. &uot;And the best way to avoid that problem is to call and ask for yourself just what kind of assistance is available to you.&uot;

Szczech clarified some of the most common misconceptions that she has heard in past disasters:

* I have insurance, so there is no other help available.

Not True: FEMA will not duplicate insurance benefits, but you may be eligible for help with losses not covered or damage in excess of your coverage (&uot;under-insured&uot;). That’s why it is important to register for assistance even while you are working with your insurance company to assess your insurance coverage.

* I have to wait for my insurance adjuster before I apply for disaster assistance.

Not True: Don’t wait for an adjuster before applying for aid or making repairs needed to make your house livable. However, you should find out what your policy covers, and be sure to keep papers and receipts for any work.

* I already repaired my home. I don’t need to apply.

Not True: You might qualify for reimbursement of expenses not covered by insurance.

* I got help from the Red Cross, so now I can’t get help from FEMA or the state.

Not True: FEMA and the North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety coordinate a number of programs to help disaster victims. These programs are different from the emergency food, clothing and shelter initially provided by the Red Cross and other voluntary agencies.

* I got help from the Red Cross, so I’m already registered with FEMA.

Not True: Registration with the Red Cross is not the same as registration with FEMA. For federal and state disaster assistance, you must first apply by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362) or (TTY) 800-462-7585.

* I have to be poor to qualify for disaster aid.

Not True: The kinds of help provided depend on each applicant’s circumstances. Federal and state disaster assistance programs may be available to those who suffered damage, regardless of income. The programs are not &uot;welfare.&uot;

* I have to be turned down by my bank before I can apply for a disaster loan. Not True: If you lived in a declared county you are eligible to apply for a low-interest disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, with interest rates as low as 2.562 percent.

If SBA cannot approve your loan application you may be referred to other agencies for additional assistance, but that can’t happen if you don’t return your application.

* I must own a business to apply for a loan from the SBA.

Not True: The SBA low-interest loan is the primary source of federal assistance for long-term recovery for homeowners, renters and business owners.

SBA covers uninsured or underinsured losses for real estate damages as well as personal property damages.

* I rent an apartment. I can’t get help.

Not True: There are several types of assistance available to renters. One type of grant may help renters with temporary housing needs if they have to move because of disaster damage or loss. Another type of grant may be available to an eligible individual or family with serious, disaster-related needs and necessary expenses that are not covered by insurance or other disaster assistance programs. Also a renter may qualify for an SBA low-interest disaster loan.

* I’m self-employed and out of work; I can’t qualify for disaster unemployment benefits.

Not True: Disaster Unemployment Assistance, funded by FEMA and administered by the North Carolina Employment Security Commission, provides benefits for workers who would not normally qualify for unemployment compensation, including farmers, farm workers and those who are self-employed. Anyone interested in filing for disaster unemployment assistance should visit the nearest state unemployment office.