Federal storm help available, but few appear interested

The FEMA area set up at the Groton Senior Center.
The FEMA area set up at the Groton Senior Center. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Groton - After six days without power, the lights came back on at Henry and Olga Ramos' home in Ledyard this weekend but the refrigerator did not.

On Sunday, they went to the Disaster Recovery Center that opened at the Groton Senior Center to see if the Federal Emergency Management Agency could help.

Dorothy Nicholas, an applications specialist for FEMA, explained how the agency provides financial assistance to individuals and families whose property was damaged or destroyed as a result of a federally-declared disaster. She answered their questions as Henry Ramos registered with the agency online to start the process.

Applying at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362) is the first thing people who sustained losses or damage from Hurricane Sandy should do, either at home or at the center if they are without power or have questions, Ron Peterson, the manager of the center, said Sunday.

"When they call and register, the program is explained to them," Peterson said. "But if they have a problem or need help filling out their information, we would be more than willing to help here at the recovery center."

Nicholas said people whose homes flood in a hurricane often need help replacing hot water heaters and furnaces, which typically aren't covered by insurance.

FEMA and the state set up the center on Saturday and three people stopped by, Peterson said. Both FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration have representatives there. The SBA offers low-interest loans to homeowners or renters and business owners in declared disaster areas.

A center was set up in the wake of last year's Tropical Storm Irene for people to make claims.

On Sunday morning, only Henry and Olga Ramos and another couple whose Groton Long Point home was damaged went to the center, but both couples said that after a trying week, they appreciated the help.

Octavia Harris, the customer service representative for the SBA, said most of the people who come to recovery centers are "very stressed because of the situation."

"My primary goal is to try to make them at ease, comfortable," she said. "Then we fill out the application. I can take them through the process to make it as easy as possible."

The SBA loans are typically used by people who do not get enough money for repairs from FEMA or private insurance, Harris said, but they must register with FEMA first.

The amount a person is eligible for from FEMA varies on a case-by-case basis, Peterson said. Once the registration is complete, applicants receive a case number. Peterson said the case number is the only thing a person needs to bring with them to the center if they have questions.

An inspector will review the damages and any of the paperwork FEMA needs, such as proof of residency or ownership and occupancy, as well as identification, Peterson said. FEMA decides whether to award a grant after the inspection and anyone who is denied can appeal.

FEMA also refers people to the SBA. If this happens, it's important for the applicant to complete and return the forms regardless of whether they want the loan otherwise all federal assistance will stop, Peterson said. Those who apply are not obligated to accept the loan, Harris said.

Interest rates on the home loans range from 1.688 percent to 3.375 percent depending on a person's credit, while rates on the business loans vary from 4 percent to 6 percent. The home loans are capped at $200,000 to repair or replace real estate and $40,000 for personal property. Business loans are capped at $2 million. The deadline is Dec. 31 for loans for physical damage and July 31, 2013, for economic injury.

The recovery center at 102 Newtown Road will be open Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., until the services are no longer needed. Anyone with questions can also call (800) 621-3362.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

FEMA employee Dorothy Nicholas helps Henry Ramos fill out a FEMA registration form at the Groton Senior Center.
FEMA employee Dorothy Nicholas helps Henry Ramos fill out a FEMA registration form at the Groton Senior Center. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
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