Flood waters have receded in Franklin County, but the effects of Tropical Storm Debby still linger. It's one of fourteen Florida counties eligible for federal disaster assistance, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now on the scene.
The agency has opened a disaster recovery center in Apalachicola to provide assistance to storm victims. So far, FEMA has identified 40 homes in Franklin County with storm-related damage.
On Wednesday, FEMA Community Relations Specialists went door to door in Carrabelle and urged victims to seek help. "It would really be good if [victims] would move visiting the recovery center and registering with FEMA up to the top of the list, because in many cases that's where the recovery really starts," said Tim Tyson, FEMA spokesman.
The recovery center is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, at the old high school on 14th Street. On site are a variety of federal and state agencies offering services ranging from crisis counseling to financial assistance.
"The main thing is to register… and then find out what your individual situation will allow and make you eligible for," said Tyson.
FEMA offers a toll-free telephone line (800-621-FEMA), website (www.disasterassistance.gov) and smart phone app for registration. Upon registering, applicants receive a 9-digit number used for processing their claim and are immediately eligible for assistance.
Tyson said claim payments average $4,000 - $5,000 and can reach as high as $30,000. In addition, the Small Business Administration offers low interest loans up to $250,000 for homeowners; renters can qualify for up to $40,000. Disaster unemployment assistance is also available.
According to Tyson, qualified applicants receive prompt claim service. "Each case is individual, but the process works pretty smoothly," he said. "In most cases, if you have Direct Deposit you can have federal money in your bank account within seventy-two hours."
Pamela Sullivan of Eastpoint filed a claim at the recovery center Wednesday morning. She and her husband hope to recover lost commercial fishing income. "I am glad I came in here... we need help," said Sullivan.
Tyson said FEMA will stay on site until everyone who needs help gets help. The agency will also pay for public assistance to repair damaged infrastructure. FEMA will fund 75% of the cost and the balance will be shared by the state and county.