CHARLESTON, W. Va. -- For people who suffered damages as a result of the recent tornadoes, severe weather and flooding, the first step in seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is to register, according to FEMA officials. This applies only to survivors living in the federally designated counties – Marion, Logan, Lincoln and Wayne.
“It’s easy to do,” said Charleston-based Federal Coordinating Officer Deanne Criswell. “You can call our toll-free number, which is 800-621-3362. Or you can go online at DiasterAssistance.gov. You absolutely must register to begin the process.”
Once registered, Criswell said, an applicant can expect a telephone call from a FEMA inspector to set up an appointment. Normally, this call will come within a few days after one registers, but almost always within 10 days. The applicant or someone at least 18 years old who lived in the home before the incident occurred must be present when the inspection takes place.
FEMA inspectors are contracted independent experts qualified to assess damages to buildings and other property that might have been damaged from the storms and flooding. Inspectors will always carry an official FEMA identification - and applicants are urged to jot down the badge number of the inspector who visits for future reference.
Inspectors do not determine whether an applicant or the damaged premises qualify for federal assistance. That is done by FEMA Individual Assistance personnel after evaluating the inspectors’ reports.
There is no fee charged for these inspections, Criswell said. The applicant will need to provide documented proof of ownership (for homeowners) and permanent occupancy (for both homeowners and renters). For example, these might include a utility bill or a copy of a rental lease.
The inspector will ask the applicant to sign a form authorizing FEMA to verify that the information given is accurate. Within about 10 days a letter will be sent by FEMA to the applicant with notification about the decision of whether the applicant is eligible for help. If so, that letter will be followed by a check (or there will be an electronic transfer to the appropriate bank account). The letter will explain what the money can be used to pay for, and applicants should be careful to use the funds as indicated.
If FEMA decides the applicant is not eligible for help, the letter will state the reasons for the denial of benefits, Criswell said. The letter will outline the process to appeal any decision the applicant thinks is erroneous.
An applicant might be referred to the Small Business Administration for help. If so he or she will receive an application for a low-interest loan to repair or replace real estate (up to $200,000) or personal property (up to $40,000). No one is required to accept any SBA loan, but filling out the application is part of the assistance process and helps FEMA in evaluating or re-evaluating any data.
Once FEMA receives an application for assistance and it is approved, the funds will be in the applicant’s hands within 10 days. For electronic bank-account deposits, the money will be available sooner. Applicants who do not receive their checks by mail promptly should phone the FEMA Help Line at 800-621-3362 or visit the nearest Disaster Recovery Center for information.
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.