WARWICK, R.I. -- Flooding from the severe storms in Rhode Island in 2010 and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) response to it forever changed the life of one Rhode Island college student. On Monday, June 14, Jennifer Cabrera, 24, awoke to a call from a familiar voice. The caller was one of FEMA's many Individual Assistance (IA) Specialists who had been assigned to Cabrera's application for FEMA assistance.
"I have great news; all of our hard work has paid off," the IA Specialist told Cabrera that morning.
The friendly, familiar FEMA voice told Cabrera that she would receive a $7,000 grant. The check, from FEMA and the Other Needs Assistance (ONA) program, would enable Cabrera to replace her flood-damaged car.
"I thought, this is such a blessing and called her back to thank her for all of her help and persistence," Cabrera said of FEMA's IA Specialist assigned to her case. "I couldn't believe it, I didn't believe it."
A total of 25,925 Rhode Islanders have applied for FEMA assistance. Nearly $36 million has been approved through FEMA's Housing Assistance and Other Needs Assistance (ONA) programs. ONA provides assistance to individuals with personal property, transportation and moving and storage needs.
Cabrera, a recipient of ONA, was one of the many individuals who were working in the Warwick Mall when the Pawtuxet River's torrent flow spilled into the mall's parking lot.
"I remember walking into work that morning; it was a little before 10 a.m.," she says sitting on the couch in her family's Providence home. "It was raining, but there was no accumulation in the parking lot."
What Cabrera and her coworkers did not realize was that in just one hour's time, rainwater from the March storms forced the Pawtuxet River to crest at 20.8 feet, more than 11 feet above flood stage, and spill over its banks.
As flood water continued to rise, an employee from another store ran to alert Cabrera and her co-workers about the flooding. Panicked, Cabrera ran toward the mall exit.
"When I saw my car I was in shock," Cabrera said.
Cabrera jumped into the water to get to her car. "The water was up to my knees, it was like jumping into a pool," she explained. "Everything in my car was floating, including my iPod and my school books—it was all destroyed."
Believing the car could be salvaged, Cabrera returned to the mall that she had evacuated just days earlier.
The car would not start and Cabrera was ready to give up until she heard from a friend about FEMA.
"I didn't know the country had FEMA," she said. "When I heard there may be assistance available I first went online to do research."
The next step for Cabrera was to visit FEMA's mobile Disaster Recovery Center (DRC), located at a nearby home improvement store. It was there that she would have the first of her many conversations with an Individual Assistance Specialist.
"Everyone at FEMA was really pleasant," she said. "They told me to apply for assistance."
Cabrera was not approved for a FEMA grant the first time she applied. So she then applied for a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) personal loan. The SBA loan application was not approved, but Cabrera was redirected to FEMA and the ONA program.
"At that point, I considered my car a total loss because I only had liability insurance," she said.
However, FEMA's Individual Assistance Specialist did not give up on Cabrera.
"She was really persistent," Cabrera said of the FEMA IA Specialist who continuously followed up with her to make sure that she had all that she was eligible to receive.
"She called me several times to make sure that I sent copies of my policy, called the mechanic who towed the car, and she even called [the insurance company] to speed up the process."
"She was so honest and caring, and I felt it," Cabrera said. "She went beyond what ...