Thanks to presidential federal disaster declaration, hurting homeowners in five Northeast Florida counties are eligible for help from the government covering uninsured damage to homes and businesses and other costs incurred from Tropical Storm Debby.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials will go to go door-to-door in Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia and Suwannee counties -- a process that began Thursday in Orange Park.

Among the place FEMA representatives went to first was Aquarius Concourse -- a street where most evacuated after the water started rising last week. They're all back now trying to clean up. Lined up on both sides of the curb are piles of drywall, carpeting, furniture and other debris pulled out from their destroyed homes.

"Contents-wise, I'm probably looking at $40,000, 50,000," said homeowner Mike Spitlar. "Damage-wise, probably the same."

As movers packed up Spitlar's dishes and other belongings not destroyed in the flood, a FEMA community relations team knocked at the door.

"We'll be on the ground going out into the areas and distributing information, talking to people, helping them with the application process," said FEMA's Bill Cook.

Walking the neighborhood, he said it will be a long road to recovery.

"Flooding is always bad, and it's not apparent when you first come into an area like a tornado or a hurricane, where you see overturned cars and houses that are demolished and things like that," Cook said. "But flooding, as you can tell once you get inside the premises, is where you see how devastating it is, and it's pretty bad."

Spitlar hopes FEMA can get him a trailer to live in while repairs are made to his home.

"I'm living with my brother- and sister-in-law. We got two 10-by-10 rooms," Spitlar said. "It's me, my wife, three dogs, two cats."

Clay County plans to open a disaster relief center by next week where FEMA representatives will be to help people with the application process. Anyone looking to apply now can get the process started by visiting DisasterAssistance.com or calling 800-621-FEMA.

FEMA has already opened disaster recovery centers in Baker and Suwannee counties:

  • Christian Fellowship Temple, 337 North 7th Street, Macclenny
  • Suwannee Coliseum, 1302 11th Street, Live Oak