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FEMA: We Offer Aid, Information for Sandy Victims

As residents remain anxious in the aftermath of Sandy, the agency says it is offering tips and information about mitigation.

Navigating her way through the piles of paperwork, through meetings with contractors and the near never-ending stream of advice coming at her from every direction is a new experience for Jacqueline Capestro. Then again, so was watching ocean water surge down the street and into her home.

For the 22 years she’s lived there, Capestro had never once seen her Bradley Beach home flood. When she returned following Hurricane Sandy to assess the damage she found her floorboards buckled, the furniture destroyed, and a flood line on the wall three feet from the floor.

After initial shock slowly shifted to resolve, Capestro was left without an answer to one very important question: What now?

In Capestro’s case, and in the case of many New Jersey’s residents severely impacted by Sandy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been the go-to resource for not only aid in getting back on her feet, but information and advice for everything after the initial.

Part of FEMA’s responsibility in its disaster response is mitigation. While immediate needs like personal safety and security are rightfully attended to before all other concerns, dedicated crews of FEMA personnel are dispatched to disaster areas to offer advice and provide information on everything that comes after finding your home underwater.

“It’s a lot of work to navigate through the process and you’re finding a lot of people who don’t know what resources are available to them,” FEMA responder Chris Herman said, standing next to a folding table covered from edge to edge with pamphlets and signup sheets.

Through the months of FEMA’s occupation of the Jersey Shore, information booths like the one manned by Herman and his partner Sharon Lavant recently at the Home Depot in West Long Branch have been set up to assist victims of Sandy in finding the correct information they need.     

A number of residents have complained about FEMA, the agency's lack of quickness in providing assistance and the confusion some have had about the application process. The complaints are not new; even after the agency underwent a number of reforms following criticism for the way FEMA handled Hurricane Katrina, the agency remains a target for many victimized by natural disasters.

With pressure being applied by municipalities to get debris removed from homes, contractors who want to start working as soon as they can, and families who just want to get back to normal, Herman said there's a need to slow down and take your time.

One of the first things residents need to do is find out where the money they need to rebuild is coming from. Still, he said, more than a month after Hurricane Sandy hit, some residents are still mired with their insurance companies, trying to find out if they coverage they have covers what just happened.

Residents need to pressure their insurance companies to commit to an answer, he said. If your plan includes insurance in case of flooding, get it in writing. If it doesn’t, get it in writing. The only way FEMA can begin to consider your application for assistance is if they know it’s not coming from somewhere else, too.

Resident impacted by Sandy have until Dec. 29 to apply for emergency aid. Visit www.disasterassistance.gov to apply online or call 1-800-621-3362 to apply over the phone.

In Capestro’s case, living in an area that had never previously flooded meant she never considered carrying flood insurance. Her letter of denial from her insurance carrier led her to getting $31,900 in aid from FEMA, the maximum amount the federal agency can offer.

When it comes to rebuilding, Herman said residents should ensure that every contractor, electrician, and plumber they use is certified. Though unlicensed handymen may promise the same work for less, the certifications carried by licensed professionals ensures that you don’t run into any issues when either FEMA or your insurance company come looking or receipts.

Being thorough in picking a contractor might seem like it’s making an arduous process even more difficult, especially for displaced residents like Capestro and her daughter Missy, but it’s the best way to ensure that you’re going about your home restoration in the right way.

"It’s been a slow process meeting contractors and getting estimates,” Missy Capestro said. “Part of you feels like you’re stuck in that movie “The Money Pit.” But we were lucky. Some days you forget that, but you need to remember. You have moments where you get stuck in that woe-is-me phase, but you’ve got to look at the bigger picture and see what you still have.”

When residents take stock of their flood-damaged homes, it’s critical they assess where the water damage occurred and promptly remove it. Reports have come from officials in many storm-ravaged areas that homes have been abandoned following Sandy, with property owners unable or unwilling to return and begin the difficult process of restoration. It’s a problem, Herman said, for one simple reason: mold.

It’s not enough to tear out the drywall and insulation and rip up the carpet, either, Herman said. Walls need to be tested with a water meter before they’re closed up to ensure that they’re not a breeding ground for mold.

“Mold is probably the biggest hazard after a flood,” he said. “Each spore is a tiny seed waiting to grow.

“I’m always careful not to scare people. Everyone has heard about that killer mold, but that’s one in millions. Mold isn’t something to be feared but it needs to be gotten rid of.”

People react differently to mold, he said, but unexplained headaches, watery eyes, and coughing are some signs that there’s a significant mold population in your home. Even a musty smell is an indication that something’s lurking behind your walls.

Luckily, though Herman is reluctant to use the word considering Sandy’s impact, much of the flooding along the Jersey Shore was from salt water. It’s also been cold recently, though Tuesday and Wednesday featured some unseasonably warm weather. It’s more difficult for mold to grow in those conditions, though it’s still a threat.

And whatever you do to dry your house out, don’t turn on the heat. Mold loves warm temperatures. If you’ve got a dehumidifier, use that. Turning the air conditioning on would help. A fan will due in a pinch as well, but, unless it’s necessary to have on, homeowners should keep the heat off as they’re drying out their houses.

Ultimately, Herman said those impacted by Sandy need to look out for their own peace of mind. Through the early stages of this restoration process, FEMA will be there to help, he said.

“The goal is to get people back to safe, sanity, and security,” he said. “Until you’re there, FEMA’s not done. But it takes patience and persistence.”

Skitch January 10, 2013 at 05:17 AM
@ Missing Brick. "Selective Flood" is only a servicing carrier for NFIP. They collect the premiums, write the policy that your agent asks for and pay the claims. What you apparently don't know is that Selective does not handle the claims. The claims are sent out to independent adjusters who are required to be certified by the NFIP for handling. The flood carriers are merely servicing carriers for the NFIP. The claims are paid out by the carriers on the request of the certified NFIP adjuster which handles your claim. Without that authorization to pay from the adjuster their hands are tied. The carrier then turns around after the payment is made and is reimbursed by the NFIP for their payment and the services in handling the claim. The NFIP is run by the federal govt.. Not sure a lawyer will be able to help you at this point in time or not. NFIP apparently moves at their own pace it seems. I had my house inspected approx 9 weeks ago and am still waiting to be paid. The NFIP is broke. If the funds are not there you can't get paid. Hence this is why Christy is lobbying so hard for the $$$$$$. Smarten up people. The insurance carriers have nothing to do with this. It's the NFIP/FEMA. The carriers don't insure for flood. It is clearly stated in homeowner policies that flood is excluded. The homeowner carriers are not going to pay you for something that is specifically excluded under the policy. Why would they?
barbara January 10, 2013 at 04:09 PM
no, i did receive flood ins money in a timely manner, however, FEMA won't give us anything cause my secondary home. My son who rents my home applied for aide and was denied, they said he had to take out a small business loan. he was approved for $23,000. don't need that much. just dont understand why FEMA wont just give him about $5,000 to cover his losses. he works hard and does not need a loan on his back. so where is all this aide money going to? we sure not seeing it, and believe me, our home is destroyed! stinks
barbara January 10, 2013 at 04:18 PM
crazy people out there, my husband is stubborn and doing most of the work on his own with help of family members. one person i know was charged $8,000 for spraying for mold. outrageous.
SOL January 10, 2013 at 04:46 PM
Yes for those that are asking second homes second cars are NOT covered & your out of luck. meaning if you are working hard & paying a lot of tax that supports the FEMA program YOU will not be getting help from them. we are in the same situation. meanwhile my husband that repairs just about everything has been donating his time & skills to man many people Not wanting or expecting anything in return... If he was a money hungry jerk like alot( NOT ALL) of these sub contractors he could have easy replaced his car he lost. ( no help from Fema because we have another car) Karma will get them.
Amanda August 25, 2013 at 04:15 PM
We received 2 grants from FEMA when our house flooded as a result of Hurricane Irene in 2011. Then in May 2013, we received a letter stating FEMA reps had miscalculated the amount of aid we should have received, and are asking us to repay 1/3 of the grant money they gave us. We sent FEMA a 21 page appeal which contained information and receipts of support, much of what had already been submitted during the rigorous disaster aid application and interview process, and received notice 4 months later that FEMA denied our appeal. I was unaware that FEMA grants are actually loans. It would have taken my family years to have saved enough money to have gotten our house back to a livable state after the flood damages. And now it will take years for my family to pay back disaster relief grants to a government agency that already receives my taxpayer dollars.

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