Hurricane victims crowd FEMA disaster center

Aid workers bring disaster aid to Prime Osborn Convention Center

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hundreds of Jacksonville residents who suffered damage from Hurricane Irma streamed into the Prime Osborn Convention Center on Tuesday to meet with staff from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other relief and community organizations and private insurers.

The Recovery Assistance Center hosted by Sen. Marco Rubio's staff is in a different county each day, working its way across each part of the state touched by last week's hurricane.

Most who turned out are in need of immediate federal assistance and are unclear of what qualifies and what does not.

"We woke up to water over our waist," Kim Pitts said. "We lost everything. A stranger put us up in a room until today and we had to check out."

Pitts said she's been having trouble registering with FEMA online. She hopes a face-to-face conversation cuts out any confusion.

FEMA officials say their job with Hurricane Irma is to meet the basic needs of hurricane victims.

"If you receive federal assistance from us, you won't need to pay it back. It's a grant. The money can be used for rental assistance, home repairs, medical expenses, funeral expenses," FEMA spokeswoman Nikki Gaskins said.

The No. 1 question asked of FEMA: "How much money will I get and when?" The answer depends on each unique situation. Some people receive financial assistance immediately, while others wait between two days and two weeks.

FEMA payouts typically are from $3,000 to $33,000.

Another popular question: "Will FEMA pay for damage to furniture, TVs and other personal belongings?" The answer for most flood victims is no.  FEMA only pays for essential needs for survival.

Some people also wanted to know if FEMA will pay for fees associated with evacuations.

"Even if it's mandatory, FEMA doesn't pay for evacuations," Gaskins said.

Larry Lewis, who had damage to his roof, posed another popular question.

"Just trying to get help with the deductible with my insurance," Lewis said. "The deductible is like $3,200. Just trying to get some help."

FEMA officials said the government will not help pay for the deductible, and anything that's covered by private insurance will not be duplicated by the federal assistance.

"We are not going to get you back to your pre-disaster conditions," Gaskins said. "That's where we partner with other agencies and the Small Business Administration."

FEMA officials said, in most cases, they will not pay for a generator.

While the event at the convention center ended at 6 p.m., a FEMA team remains set up near the intersection of Atlantic Boulevard and Hendricks Avenue in San Marco to assist people with hurricane recovery.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, FEMA representatives will be at the Clay County Supervisor of Elections Office, 500 N. Orange Ave., Green Cove Springs. They will assist local residents who need to register for assistance.

People who visit any FEMA center should bring their Social Security number, the name of their homeowners insurance company, a description of damage, along with financial and contact information.

People can also apply for federal aid online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362.

Magnitude of the damage

With 335,000 insurance claims representing $1.9 billion in property losses filed by Sunday, Hurricane Irma has already exceeded the claims and losses from the two hurricanes that pummeled Florida last year, the state reported.

Irma's losses easily exceeded the 119,000 claims and $1.2 billion in losses for Hurricane Matthew, and the 19,700 claims and $139 million in losses from Hurricane Hermine, the Office of Insurance Regulation data showed.

FEMA aid: What's it cover; how to apply

After you apply, a FEMA inspector will contact you to schedule an inspection. The inspection generally takes 30-40 minutes or less and consists of a general verification of your disaster-related losses and a review of ownership or residence records.

Once the inspection process is complete, your situation will be reviewed by FEMA. You will receive a letter by email or physical mail, depending on your preference, which that outlines the decision about your claim. For more information about the inspection process, and documentation you will need to provide the inspector, visit the FEMA Individual Assistance Inspection Process page.

All applications for aid must be received within 60 days of the disaster declaration.

Late last week, FEMA had received about 154,800 applications for assistance and had approved $106 million. Thousands more applications come in daily, a FEMA spokeswoman said.

The Small Business Administration offers low-interest disaster loans to eligible businesses and homeowners. As of last Thursday, it hadn't approved any loans yet for Hurricane Irma.

The federal government can also provide large-scale assistance. Congress has already authorized $15 billion in disaster aid for Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Lawmakers are still weighing aid packages for Florida and Georgia to help cope with Irma.

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