Federal help ready in Catoosa

Federal help ready in Catoosa

May 11th, 2011 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

It cannot be stressed enough, anyone who might have suffered losses due to the tornado should register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"If damages of any degree occurred, register," said Buzz Weiss, a spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Volunteers who have dealt with recovery efforts following catastrophic natural disasters insist that everyone affected by the storm register and file claims with FEMA. Whether it is for help rebuilding your home that was destroyed or only for reimbursement of restaurant meals and temporary lodging, register with FEMA.

"Overall FEMA is the difference between your town coming back or not coming back," said Jeanne Adby, who volunteers with a faith-based relief agency. "Whether or not you had damage, register, and let FEMA figure out if you get funds."

Registration can be done online, by coming to the Individual Assistance Disaster Recovery Center at Benton Place, or by telephone. And until a case number is assigned, the recovery assistance process cannot begin.

After she toured tornado-damaged areas in and around Ringgold, U. S. Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano speaks Sunday afternoon to reporters gathered at the Adult Learning Center at Benton Place Campus. Standing behind Napolitano are, from left, Ringgold Mayor Joe Barger, Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, Catoosa County Commission Chairman Keith Greene, GEMA Director Charley English, Ringgold Councilman Randall Franks and U.S. Rep. Tom Graves. Photo by John Rawlston

After she toured tornado-damaged areas in and around...

"Calling is the easiest," said John Veach, manager of the local FEMA center. "Even if you come here, I'll hand you a telephone to register. If you're at home you should have the information you need."

Individuals who submitted necessary paperwork last week should begin receiving letters this week advising if claims have been accepted or denied.

"It will be either 'yes' or 'no,'" Veach said. "If the claim is denied don't throw the letter away. Read the letter to see if it requires a simple fix and, if it does, come here and refile."

In addition to individual relief, direct payments providing short-term help to homeowners and renters who suffered losses, the Small Business Administration can offer long-term recovery assistance.

Assistance can be in the form of below-market rate loans of up to $200,000 for individuals and up to $2 million for businesses or non-profit organizations to replace or repair damaged real estate.

Loans are also available to help businesses that did not suffer physical damage but have sustained economic damage due to the storm.

In all cases, officials say it is imperative that disaster loan applications for property damages be returned before June 28. Since it is difficult to determine how the storm will impact local businesses for the next few weeks or months, the deadline for economic injury applications is Jan. 30, 2012.

FEMA's Bill Lindsey Jr. said Americans have an attitude of self-sufficiency and will make arrangements to stay with relatives and try to go it alone. Though possible, that is not advisable, he said.

"We want people to come here [the Catoosa Learning Center] so we can work with them," Weiss said. "We know what they have been through is traumatic, but there is nothing we haven't seen, and we have resources to help them."

Veach said the local operation is well-organized.

"I've never worked anywhere that has had so much cooperation between agencies," he said.

Officials say the Disaster Recovery Center offers a one-stop-shop approach to dealing with aid agencies, utility companies and either getting answers - or referrals to those with answers - to questions about getting their lives back to normal.

Though it may seem like a daunting task, staff at the Recovery Center are ready and willing to guide everyone in properly filling out the myriad of necessary official forms. These staff members are familiar with disaster's aftermath and never forget they are dealing with real people who have suffered real losses - not just some case number.

Tom Nocera, a spokesman for the SBA's office of disaster assistance, provided such an example last week when the first rains since the tornado washed over Catoosa County.

Nocera was recounting some of the details related to the SBA's activities when Eulla Gossett, who had just visited the FEMA office, stood at the entrance to the Learning Center. In her arms, Gossett held her 6-month-old godson, Steven Rice.

The little boy was ready for a bottle and nap in his carseat, both of which were across the parking lot, and Gossett seemed hesitant to make the dash through wind-driven rain.

Nocera excused himself from explaining SBA business to a reporter, asked for Gossett's car keys and, like a valet, retrieved her car and brought it to the Learning Center's front door.

As she watched him splash across the pavement, Gossett said, "The government is really here to help."