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Kanawha officials try to clarify FEMA rules

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County officials want to make sure that any residents who suffered property damage during the June 29 derecho storm and its aftermath get any federal assistance they may be entitled to.

After initially refusing to provide help to people affected by the storm, officials for the Federal Emergency Management Agency reversed their position following an appeal by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. FEMA will now provide help to individual property owners in Kanawha, Fayette, Raleigh and Nicholas counties.

But Kanawha County Emergency Services Director Dale Petry said there are still a lot of questions about how to apply for help and what may be covered. County officials are planning a campaign to let people know that help is available.

Petry said county officials received reports of property damage from more than 350 county residents in the aftermath of the storm system that knocked out electricity to some areas of the state for two weeks. County officials believe even more people suffered losses or damage that were never reported.

FEMA has set up a Disaster Recovery Center in the basement of the South Charleston Community Center, 601 Jefferson Road. The center will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 1 to 6 p.m. on Sundays until Oct. 24. FEMA officials and officials for the U.S. Small Business Association will be available to help residents sign up for help.

Residents can still apply for FEMA assistance online or by telephone through Nov. 19, Petry said. Call 1-800-621-FEMA or visit www.disasterassistance.gov.

Petry said county officials plan to run ads in local newspapers and radio to tell county residents about the disaster relief center. Officials are also putting up placards and passing out fliers at local high school, junior high and middle school sporting events, and hope to announce the center at West Virginia University and Marshall University football games.

Petry strongly urges residents who haven't already registered with FEMA to pre-register before going to the Disaster Recovery Center, since that's the first thing FEMA officials will ask anyway. To pre-register, go to www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA. Smartphone users can use m.fema.gov.

FEMA assistance can only be given to residents who have filed an insurance claim for storm damage. FEMA will not cover anything already covered by insurance, but may provide help for losses or damage that insurance didn't pick up.

Residents applying for FEMA aid should have their Social Security number, insurance information, an address and zip code for the damaged property, directions to the property, a daytime telephone number and bank account information with them when they go to the recovery center.

Once there, residents may be directed to officials for the Small Business Association, who may ask them to fill out an application for a low-interest loan to pay for repairs or other damage. Petry said that residents should fill out any and all forms even if they don't want a loan in order to create a paper trail needed for further assistance.

"Register, and do all the paperwork, as trivial as it might seem to you," Petry said. "That's how you get from step one to step three. There has to be a step two."

FEMA assistance may be available for housing needs or losses not directly related to the property itself. Under housing needs, FEMA may be able to provide financial assistance to help pay for repairs or replacement of damaged homes, and may help pay for things like hotel bills if homeowners had nowhere else to stay after their home was damaged.

FEMA may also be able to reimburse homeowners for repair work that's already been paid for. Homeowners will need to present receipts for work done.

Non-housing needs that are not directly related to the house itself might include disaster-related medical or dental expenses, funeral or burial expenses, lost clothing or household items, fuel, clean-up items, vehicle damage or the use of a storage facility while repairs are made to a home.

Petry said the cost of a generator may also be covered by FEMA.

If a property owner had to buy a generator to run an oxygen machine or for another medically necessary reason, FEMA may reimburse the cost, Petry said. "If you bought it as a comfort item, like you want your lights on, you won't be reimbursed," he said.

Anyone with questions can visit www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA. Petry said residents also can call the Kanawha County Commission at 304-357-0100.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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