ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – As the costs from Hurricane Matthew continue to rise, federal officials on Friday surveyed some of the worst-hit areas in St. Johns County.
There is a process they have to follow before granting federal aid to help residents recover from the hurricane damage. That funding, which will help homeowners with repairs and temporary housing, is expected to come.
One area, known as North City, sits off a salt marsh not far from downtown St. Augustine. The hurricane pushed floodwaters into many homes there, and representatives with the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured the damage on Friday.
Resident Gina Burrell was glad to see them.
“It takes a while to get it together, because there's a lot of damage, and I'm glad they are coming out,” she said. “It's good. I appreciate that, all of the help I get from the state and the federal government.”
Surveying the damage is the first step for FEMA, as officials add up the numbers from the damage costs before submitting their findings to the president, who decides whether to declare the county a disaster area.
If he does, FEMA can start writing checks.
“There is a process, but it's not too complicated, and usually we can get an answer, hopefully, within a week after all the numbers are done,” FEMA representative Greg Hughes said.
Those grant checks, which do not have to be repaid, can be used toward repairs or housing.
FEMA officials were back in St. Johns County on Monday and also surveyed damage in Brevard and Volusia counties.
FEMA staff said it’s OK to begin repairs now, before a declaration is made. Residents should just keep records of money spent and take photographs of the damage.
“People want to get the mess cleaned up and get on with their lives, and that's completely understandable,” Hughes said. “There is no need to wait.”
In the meantime, the St. Augustine fire chief talked about what his department is doing now to help get people back on their feet.
“As we go out, I have been talking to folks, trying to figure out what their critical needs are,” Chief Carlos Aviles said. “If you're outside your house, I'm going to try to stop and talk to you and figure out what your critical needs are. Some folks told me, 'I need boxes.' Some folks want ice, bottled water, whatever we can supply for them.”
One of the things Aviles' department is working on is providing laundry service for residents of Davis Shores, one of the hardest hit areas of St. Johns County on St. Augustine's Anastasia Island.
The city said its main concern is debris removal, as huge piles of trash line roads.
“The other part of it is we, as a city, understand there is an emotional toll,” Aviles said. “Folks come back to their house day in and day out and see their entire belongings on the front yard. So I think debris removal is important from a health perspective, as well as an emotional and feeling perspective, so we can get past this disaster and come out stronger as a city.”
FEMA inspectors will be hitting the Duval County area on Monday, and Nassau County later next week.
Once they are through, it will be up to the state, and then the federal government to declare a disaster in those counties.
Parking will be free in St. Augustine this weekend as the major tourist area in Northeast Florida tries get back in business.
FEMA damage assessment
The Florida State Emergency Response Team and FEMA have compiled information regarding the FEMA Damage Assessment Process for St. Johns County residents and business owners affected by Hurricane Matthew:
- Florida received a major disaster declaration on October 8, 2016. This declaration makes federal aid available for emergency protective measures and debris removal in St. Johns County.
- Gov. Rick Scott’s request for Individual Assistance and for Public Assistance categories C-G is still under consideration while damage assessments are underway.
- The State requested joint and federal-state Preliminary Damage Assessments be completed to evaluate damages to residential homes/property, businesses, and public infrastructure as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
- The Property Damage Assessment is an information-gathering process. Teams comprised of representatives from local emergency management, the State of Florida, SBA, and FEMA will working together to gather damage information. It does not guarantee federal assistance.
- Teams will not visit every home or business.
- If a county is declared eligible for further assistance, individuals and households in the declared county may apply for that assistance.
- Right now, the priority is clean-up. Residents and businesses do not have to wait to find out if federal assistance will be available before beginning their clean-up. However, they should keep repair receipts and document damages whenever possible.
- Residents should notify their insurance agents of any damages sustained to their property. Individuals should also contact their local emergency management agency to report damage.
Residents who are in need of shelter, or have other emergency needs related to Hurricane Matthew, can call the St. Johns County Emergency Management Citizen Information Line at 904-824-5550 for additional information.
How to get insurance assistance
St. Johns County residents can call the Florida Division of Consumer Services for insurance assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew at 1-877-693-5236.
The phone line is active from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Consumer Services Division offers residents direct access to insurance experts who can answer insurance-related questions, including coverage, policies, and filing claims, that will follow in the wake of the storm as well as information and resources.
For more disaster resource information, please visit the Consumer Services Division website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/Consumers/hurricanematthew.htm.
St. Johns County disaster relief assistance
St. Johns County is offering Florida State Housing Initiative Partnership Program (SHIP) relief assistance for qualifying income eligible St Johns County residents that have experienced damage to their home as a result of Hurricane Matthew. According to program guidelines, the assistance may help cover costs for the eligible activities listed below:
- Purchase of emergency supplies for eligible households to weather damaged homes (such as tarps)
- Interim repairs to avoid further damage; tree and debris removal required to make the individual housing unit habitable
- Construction of wells or repairs to existing wells where public water is not available
- Payment of insurance deductibles for rehabilitation of homes covered under homeowner’s insurance policies
- Security deposit, rental assistance for eligible recipients who have been displaced from their homes due to damage from the storm
If you are interested in determining if you may qualify for SHIP disaster relief assistance, please contact the St Johns County Housing and Community Development Division at 904-827-6898.