Federal assistance, recovery center coming to St. Augustine

Debris removal underway along St. John County's 42 miles of coastline

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Federal, state and local governments and nonprofit groups will open a recovery assistance center Friday in the Lincolnville area of St. Augustine that was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew.

The federal government included St. Johns among several counties in a major disaster declaration last week, and added individual assistance to the declaration on Monday, making federal funds available to homeowners to help get their homes back in shape.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, toured Davis Shores, other parts of St Augustine, St Johns and Flagler counties on Wednesday. He assured families that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is there to help.

"It's coming," Nelson said. "That is what individual assistance is for."

Apply for disaster assistance online

But that financial assistance could be three weeks away, which seems like an eternity to people who have already been out of their homes for a week. Anyone who needs more immediate help can call 211 to be connected with volunteer agencies in the community.

Representatives of the Small Business Administration are also in St Augustine. That agency can give low-interest loans to help people rebuild and also help businesses get back in business.

While impatient, people were happy to see FEMA and Nelson in their neighborhood.

"I've been in that house 50 years and I want to come back home," Lincolnville resident Gladys Garris said.

Garris' grandson, Peter, took News4Jax through their two homes to show what the storm surge did to their lives. Most of their belongings are sitting in a debris pile at the street.

"We have nothing, man. We are homeless," Peter Garris said. "She had to get rid of things from her wedding, from my father, from her kids. We need help. We are stranded."

The assistance center will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the Talimore Center at  399 Riberia Street. In addition to FEMA and the SBA, HUD, several Florida agencies, the Red Cross, the United Way, Catholic Charities, an insurance company and a job placement agency will be available to help.

"This comprehensive recovery assistance center will serve as a one-stop shop to help those in need fully start the difficult process of putting their lives back together," Sen. Marco Rubio said.

State of emergency extended

St. Johns County officials on Tuesday extended the state of emergency for at least another week. That status will help people who are trying to repair damage to their homes and businesses.

Once the state of emergency expires, residents have to go through a lot of red tape to get certain things accomplished. For example, those living in Vilano Beach whose homes are teetering on the edge of collapse can now immediately take steps to protect what they own.

No matter where you look in St. Johns County, it's obvious the cleanup is going to take a while. That's why the St. Johns County Commission voted Tuesday to again extend the state of emergency so that county officials and people living here can react immediately.

The county was one of the hardest-hit areas from the storm, suffering billions of dollars in damage.

Residential and commercial properties took a hard hit too. Real estate data from CoreLogic estimated that insured losses could be between $4 billion and $6 billion and are still growing.

READ: Information on construction and repair permits for St. Johns County

News4Jax was told that some residents have even pulled from piles of debris to help rebuild their homes. Officials ask that residents be careful and watch out for screws and nails.

Property damage reporting for residents

St. Johns County residents and business owners who sustained property damage during Hurricane Matthew are encouraged to call their insurance providers directly with storm-related inquiries.

Property owners can also report damages to the St. Johns County Property Appraiser’s Office at www.sjcpa.us.

Damages do not need to be reported to St. Johns County Emergency Management.

For more information, please call the St. Johns County Emergency Management Citizen Information Line at 904-824-5550.

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