FEMA offering aid

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Heavy winds and flooding rains caused millions of dollars in damages in Covington County, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives are now on hand to assist residents in filing assistance claims.

On Tuesday, FEMA opened a new “Disaster Recovery Center” at the county’s EMA/E-911 office on East Watson Street. It will remain open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily “until it’s no longer needed,” county EMA director Kristi Stamnes said.

Covington, along with 18 other Alabama counties, sustained heavy damage to roads, bridges and homes during late March and early April.

Locally, 33 roadways, an un-named number of bridges and 80 homes sustained damage, Stamnes said.

“The damage ranged from shingles blown off the roof and water damage, to homes completely destroyed,” she said.

FEMA’s preliminary estimates show the county sustained $3.9 million in damages. When combined with damage totals from the surrounding counties, the figure was enough for the area to qualify for federal disaster assistance.

A mobile command unit is set up in the parking lot of the EMA building to assist residents in applying for private assistance, Stamnes said.

“There are three ways people can come in and report their damage to see if they can get assistance,” she said. “They can come by here; they can call the 1-800 number or they can go on the Web.”

The public assistance funds are available to government and nonprofit agencies while the private assistance is for homeowners, renters and business owners.

A public meeting will be held today with state EMA and FEMA representatives in the county’s administration building on Hillcrest Drive to discuss how the county will benefit from FEMA assistance.

County administrator Brenda Petty said this is an opportune time to receive information pertaining to FEMA assistance in regards to public assistance.

All residents and business owners must register with FEMA, either by phone at 800-621-3362 or on the Web at www.disasterassistance.gov, before they can qualify for disaster assistance.

Additionally, FEMA representatives will also be traveling throughout the county in the coming days surveying damage.

“We’ll be going door-to-door in some areas trying to talk to people,” said Marilyn Shenkerborn, a FEMA community relation specialist. “If you see us in the community, and have a question, don’t hesitate to come and ask. We encourage everyone — whether they have already reported their damage or not — come down and talk with us. We’re here to help.”

Representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration are also on hand at the EMA building to assist with applying for disaster loans. These low-interest loans are available to renters, homeowners, business owners, as well as non-profit organizations.