A month after Hurricane Ian swept through Florida, Ciry Sosa and her family are still living in their Fort Myers Beach apartment when dirty salt water rose up to 4 feet, destroying most of their belongings and leaving mold on the walls. They are sleeping on air mattresses and relying on donations of food, clothing and other essentials from neighbors and community groups.
After the storm passed, 41-year-old Sosa waited Lined up for three to four hours at a local library to apply for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA. She stated that she lives with her husband and teenage son and explained what happened during the storm. About a week later, an inspector came to take a look.
But that’s the last he’s heard from the agency tasked with helping to deal with disasters. Even the $700 that FEMA distributed to many of its residents to help with their immediate needs has not been received.
Meanwhile, the family cannot stay in a hotel or rent a new apartment. And they’re also waiting to hear from their auto insurance provider about the payout for their 2005 Ford Explorer that flooded.
“I understand they have a lot of work to do,” Sosa, who also has a dog and two birds, said of FEMA. “But we should have something already. We need money.”
A month after the Category 4 hurricane devastated parts of Florida’s west coast, residents are still trying to piece their lives back together. FEMA support is critical for many of them.
Those affected by the storm told CNN they had different experiences with the agency. All praised FEMA workers for their kindness, but some Floridans received help quickly, while others have been left waiting for weeks. CNN plans to chronicle his dealings with the agency in the coming months.
Mixed opinions are not new. FEMA has long been criticized for inadequate responses to hurricanes. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a report last month that criticized the agency’s recovery and relief process for survivors who have the greatest needs, particularly people of color and low-income residents, among others.
FEMA has provided $643 million in aid to residents in 26 Florida counties as of Wednesday, the agency said. It operates 19 disaster recovery centers where people can learn about and register for aid, check the status of their applications and receive assistance with FEMA notifications, among other services. Interpretation services and translated materials are available.
Disaster survivor assistance specialists, going door-to-door in affected neighborhoods, have contacted more than 60,000 people, according to FEMA. Hundreds of inspectors have assessed the damage to more than 164,000 homes.
To receive assistance, homeowners must first verify their identity and property, as well as show that they have insurance that can cover the damage. FEMA then assesses the extent of the damage and how it has affected the homeowner’s ability to live safely in the home. Next agency it determines how much it will give to the home owner based on the level of damage and the average prices of local materials and repairs.
FEMA is also providing a roof over the heads of more than 2,100 households, with a total of nearly 5,400 people, through the Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program, which allows FEMA to directly pay hotels and motels in Florida, Alabama and Georgia that are providing emergency shelter. alive
And on Wednesday, the agency approved Florida’s request for direct temporary housing in four counties, offering survivors travel trailers and larger manufactured housing units.
Survivors who feel they’ve been wiped out should make sure their application and responses are up to date, said Melissa Forbes, FEMA’s assistant administrator for recovery. They can also call the helpline – 800-621-3362–. a representative to guide them through the process or let them know what else they need to submit.
Recognizing that some survivors may have trouble navigating the system, FEMA is implementing an enhanced service program to provide additional assistance to some applicants who are not considered eligible but may actually receive assistance. An inspector might come back or a call center agent might run into an obstacle.
“So we’re not imposing responsibility on them, but we’re helping them manage their way through the program,” Forbes said, noting that the agency “has room to grow to be better able.” help the renters.’
Francie Pucin is thrilled with FEMA, which has already given her money for the damage to her Fort Myers home. The renovation was completed two weeks before storm surge flooded the ceiling, rendering it uninhabitable.
The 55-year-old received $700 for immediate needs and was given $2,900 for temporary housing for two months for herself and her two cats.
Pucin, who moved to Florida from the Chicago area last year, has temporarily relocated to her parents’ home in Pompano Beach, Florida. When she regained Internet access, she spent 20 minutes applying for FEMA assistance online, which she said was a very easy process. A few days later, he was surprised by a note on his account saying his claim was pending, but he couldn’t call when he called. Then tried at 7am, spoke to a representative and quickly resolved the issue.
About 10 days after making the request, he happened to be at home when the inspector called. He passed later that day.
Although he had taken title documents from his home before fleeing, he didn’t need them as the inspector looked up his record on the county tax assessor’s website. Within two days, the funds were in his bank account.
“It’s really humbling,” said Pucin, a retired insurance agent. “I thought ‘Wow, what an amazing country we live in’.” I hope they will be there for everyone as they were for me.’
Although he hopes to restore his home, Pucin has heard rumors that Lee County may not allow residents of the Palmetto Palms RV Resort to rebuild, since it’s only a few miles from the gulf.
Meanwhile, Pucin is still waiting to hear from FEMA about getting a trailer to live in while she determines what to do with her home. As he has to leave his parents’ place in mid-November, he expects to need help with the agency’s rental, as he doesn’t think he will receive the trailer until early next year.
One remaining issue: She’s considering whether to file a claim with FEMA for the contents of her home. But an agency representative told him he must first apply for a loan from the Small Business Administration, which offers low-interest loans to homeowners and renters in disaster-declared areas, and be rejected. Then he can turn to FEMA for money.
Other Floridians, however, are still waiting to receive help from FEMA.
If Karen Watmough doesn’t get FEMA funds soon, she may have to move to Tennessee to live with her father. About to turn 60, he doesn’t like the idea.
Watmough had been living on a yacht in a Fort Myers Beach marina since 2016. He happened to be on vacation further north in Florida when Ian hit him. It took his friends three days to find the boat called Sahara Wind Saharan Air Layer, proven to suppress hurricane activity. He ended up on land, around the corner from the marina, under two shrimp boats.
Watmough, who worked as a housekeeper at a flooded beach resort, called FEMA in early October and got through right away. The rep opened a claim and said someone would be in touch to look at the boat.
On October 20, the inspector came, took all the pictures he could and declared it a total loss. It was wonderful, Watmough said, as it helped him remember the items in the box. But he told her that he had no line items for the ships that were the main residences. So he wrote “others” and the measurements, 36 feet long and 14 feet wide.
Now, he hopes to hear any help he will receive from the agency. Watmough, who canceled his boater’s insurance in August after the annual premium quadrupled to $1,000, hopes to use it to buy an RV or trailer.
“Things are still up in the air until we know what FEMA does,” said Watmough, who lives temporarily with a friend in Fort Myers. “About a day.”
Meanwhile, his friend Robert Heather has run into more trouble with his FEMA claim for the loss of his first-floor rental apartment in Fort Myers Beach, where he nearly drowned until his neighbors rescued him through a window. Then he went with a friend to Nashville, where he had to buy new clothes, since he lost almost everything, including his car, in the hurricane.
About 10 days after submitting the application, he called and learned that his claim was closed because he was not there for an inspection and he had not appointed anyone to represent him. But she’s wondering why she didn’t receive the $700 payment for her immediate needs, since the liquor store and lodging where she held part-time jobs are closed due to storm damage.
Since he’s not sure he’ll ever get any money from FEMA, he’s in no rush to go back and reopen the claim. He thinks it will arrive in early November.
“I don’t have any faith in them,” Heather, 73, said. He hopes to get a loan from his bank when he returns to Fort Myers Beach to buy a trailer to live in, since his apartment will be unlivable for a year. .