Hardship & Heartbreak

Published 10:20 am Monday, October 24, 2016

WINDSOR – While FEMA field teams continue to meet independently with residents and business owners in Bertie County who registered online for federal assistance, local government officials are worried about those without the means or skills to communicate electronically.

It appears that local leaders are working to resolve that issue and attempting to raise awareness with federal officials about the plight of those suffering damage in the wake of Hurricane Matthew who do not have online access.

“For about 10 days we have received reports that FEMA was meeting one-on-one with our residents and business owners who were able to register for federal assistance online,” said Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer. “Thanks to the strong joint efforts of (Board of Commissioners) Chairman (John) Trent and (Windsor) Mayor (Jim) Hoggard, FEMA has responded and staff arrived this afternoon (Thursday) to inspect and approve the Council of Aging facility in Windsor (to serve as a disaster assistance office).

“It our goal to work with FEMA to initiate a soft opening for the survivor assistance center early next week, hopefully by Monday afternoon,” Sauer added. “FEMA is scheduling field teams for this weekend (both Saturday and Sunday) to continue the individual contact with those who were able to register online. Mayor Hoggard and Chairman Trent were very forceful in communicating that many of our residents do not have Internet access, broadband connectivity or the computer skills to work through the online registration process, and this is especially true for our elderly residents.”

Sauer said clear and open communication between the county, state and federal officials is critical.

“Our Emergency Services Director (Mitch Cooper) has been coordinating early morning leadership conferences with Chairman Trent, Mayor Hoggard, (Windsor) Town Administrator Allen Castelloe and myself every two to three days to receive progress reports and share information,” Sauer stated. “Thursday’s meeting included several critical conference calls with federal and state legislative officials and key staff to communicate the importance of having a FEMA disaster survivor assistance center established in Bertie County.”

County citizens and business owners wishing to receive the latest updates on the progress of hurricane assistance and recovery are encouraged to attend a regularly scheduled Board of Commissioners meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 24 at the Kelford Community Building.

The county also uses its Facebook page, which is updated daily, to communicate with Bertie citizens. Recent updates include those from FEMA and the NC Disaster Relief Employment Grant program for counties with federal declarations resulting from Hurricane Matthew. Eligible employment grantees must be public or private non-profit agencies and Bertie County is preparing a list of project team assignments to address various recovery priorities, with opportunities ranging from application intake clerical support to maintenance and general labor.  Grant funds will be administered through the Region Q Mid-East Commission Workforce Development Office and grant funds will support wages ranging from the federal minimum wage and not to exceed $24,000 or 12 months, whichever occurs first.

Sauer also stressed that Emergency Food Stamps are also available. Eligibility is determined using a threshold of 50 percent of the county’s population that experienced electrical utility power outages during the recent flooding.  He said Bertie DSS Director Cindy Perry is leading the effort coordinate data collection from Roanoke Electric, Dominion Power and the Town of Windsor to verify Bertie County’s eligibility for this program.

Meanwhile, Bertie residents and business owners are attempting to recover from a double whammy – 17 inches of rain that fell over a three-day period from Sept. 19-21 that caused flooding across the county followed two weeks later by Hurricane Matthew.

“It has now been 30 days since Tropical Storm Julia brought flood waters impacting Bertie County residents from Colerain to Windsor and many other locations in between,” Sauer noted. “Unfortunately, the recovery, clean-up and government responses all seem to move too slowly for those citizens who have been directly impacted.”

Sauer said many county residents had yet to complete the task of cleaning up from Julia and then were hit hard again by Matthew.

“There’s a lot of hardship and heartbreak across our county,” Sauer said. “The good news has been and continues to be the outpouring of volunteers who share in the labor and the tears of ‘mucking out’ a lifetime of household possessions and memories. We have also been contacted with donated cleaning supplies and offers of financial support (gift cards for groceries from Walmart).   Our Sheriff’s Office has been contacted by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Hillsborough who is preparing a large shipment of donated new shoes for all of the families impacted by the floods.”

As a reminder of those able to use the Internet to register for FEMA assistance, Sauer said that agency can be contacted by various means, to include online at DisasterAssistance.gov; or by phone by calling the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 (FEMA). Applicants who use 711 or Video Relay Service may also call 800-621-3362. Persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY may call 800-462-7585.

The toll-free numbers are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. Help is available in most languages, and information on the registration process is available in ASL at http://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/111546.

Those eligible may qualify for grants for temporary housing and home repairs, and for other serious disaster-related needs, such as medical and dental expenses or funeral and burial costs. They may also be eligible for long-term, low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. These loans cover losses not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations.

Registering with FEMA is required for federal aid, even if you have registered with another disaster-relief organization such as the American Red Cross, or local community or church organization. You must use the name that appears on your Social Security card.

Information required at the time of registration includes a storm victim’s Social Security number, address of the damaged home or apartment, description of the damage, information about insurance coverage, current contact telephone number, mailing address, and bank account and routing numbers if the qualifying individual wishes to have direct deposit of any financial assistance.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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