Story last updated at 2:32 p.m. Thursday, December 12, 2002

FEMA in town to assist flood victims
by Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

How do you spell relief? Try F-E-M-A.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is in town through Saturday, providing information to residents and business owners whose property was damaged by the heavy October flooding.

Representatives of state, federal and volunteer agencies will be on hand at a Disaster Recovery Center set up in Homer to provide information on programs that are available to flood victims and to counsel applicants through the process.

The DRCs are operated jointly by FEMA and the Alaska Division of Emergency Services.

On Dec. 4, President Bush declared parts of Alaska affected by the flooding to be a disaster area. That declaration freed up federal funding to reimburse affected property owners.

While the reimbursement process is a little more complicated, applying for the funding is as easy as calling FEMA's toll-free registration number at (800) 621-FEMA. Registration is required before visiting the DRC.

"Every homeowner or property owner who had any kind of damage at all should apply, even if they have flood insurance," said Michael Raphael, Public Information Officer for FEMA. "There might be some things that weren't covered."

What's covered and what's not? Raphael said it helps to think of FEMA as an insurance agency that covers losses uninsured by other agencies.

"If it's covered by insurance, we don't cover it," he said. "Anything that's vitally important to living we cover. Personal artwork is not something we consider a necessary item, and we don't cover those things."

Kerre Fisher, a public information officer for the Alaska Division of Emergency Services, said that as of Wednesday 125 people had applied for FEMA reimbursement.

"Those have not been verified, but those are the applicants for individual assistance so far," she said. "We expect to get more."

Fisher said no hard figures were available for what the flooding cost the state, but some estimates are in.

"State Parks estimated about $740,000 in damage to state recreation areas and other parkland facilities," she said. "And (the Alaska Department of Transportation) estimated about $12.7 million in roads and bridges damage.

"There are still other damages that haven't been quantified yet," she said. "My guess is there are a lot of people we haven't even heard from."

Raphael encouraged everyone affected by the flooding to apply.

"Some people don't apply because they say they don't want to take money away from people who they think need it more, but that's not how it works," he said. "Everything is covered on a case-by-case basis. Everyone should register by phone, and go to the DRC to talk to someone."

The DRC is an informational event, and financial assistance will not be provided on site.

But victims can fill out applications for the U.S. Small Business Administration low-interest loans, which is the next required step in the reimbursement process.

"You need to do that to be eligible for a FEMA grant," Raphael said.

Following the DRC, inspectors will be contacting applicants to set up appointments to view the damage. Based on those inspections, reimbursement funds could be available within two weeks, Raphael said.

"Typically the funding is available in seven to 15 days," he said. "Applicants will need to prove to the inspectors that they are truly the owners of a property, or in the case of renters, that they were renting the property at the time of the flooding."

Hazard mitigation experts also will be on hand at the DRC to provide information on ways to reduce the effects of flood disasters on homes and buildings.

DRCs also were held this week in Seward and Ninilchik.

The Homer DRC will be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. through Saturday at the City Council Chambers at Homer City Hall.

Chris Bernard can be reached at cbernard@homernews.com.

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