By Troy MacNeill firstname.lastname@example.org
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has teamed up with Florida state agencies to open the FEMA – State Disaster Recovery Center. The goal of the recovery center is to help get the people impacted by Hurricane Matthew back on their feet by providing a list of agencies that may be able to assist with disaster related needs.
“We come in to the state agencies and work directly with them,” said David Phillips, the manager of the recovery center. “It’s a great one-stop-shop for everyone who needs help.”
Hurricane Matthew swept through St. Augustine and ended up being one of the worst storms the nation’s oldest city has ever seen. On Oct. 6, residents of St. Augustine and St. Johns County were advised to evacuate. By Oct. 7, Matthew had struck the coastal town of St. Augustine as a Category 3 hurricane. All of St. Johns County was affected differently. For some, their houses were left safe and livable. For others, streets were flooded, businesses were damaged, power was lost and houses were ruined, rendering some residents without a home or job.
For these residents, it may have felt like all hope was lost. Without a home or a job, these residents feel misplaced, not knowing where to go. They do not always know what steps to take to begin the transition back to their everyday lives. This is where the FEMA – State Disaster Recovery Center comes in.
“We understand that these survivors are overwhelmed. FEMA may not be the first thing that they are thinking about,” said Deanna Frazier, public information officer for FEMA. “Our message is to encourage survivors to get assistance. FEMA will play an important role in the recovery process.”
The recovery center has already seen a huge number of residents and survivors applying for help. In Florida, 33,000 people have applied for assistance from FEMA. St. Johns County alone has seen nearly 4,000 people seeking assistance.
“$11.4 million has been approved to assist people already,” said Frazier. “This is money going directly into the survivors’ checking accounts.”
The FEMA – State Disaster Recovery Center in St. Johns County, located at 3111 Agricultural Center Dr., was the first recovery center to open in Florida for Hurricane Matthew. There have been more centers opening up around Florida in order to help the recovery effort (Flagler County, Putnam County, Volusia County and Indian River County). The St. Johns County recovery center has been seeing 60 to 70 storm victims a day since opening on Oct. 24.
“The disaster was declared on Oct. 16,” said Frazier. “Survivors have 60 days to register for federal assistance.”
There are three ways to register for this assistance:
1. Call 1-800-FEMA (3362)
2. Go online to disasterassitance.gov
3. Come in to the recovery center
“Our goal is to make living spaces safe, sanitary and functional so survivors can get back on their feet,” said Frazier. “FEMA is not designed to make you whole again or get you back to pre-disaster conditions.”
One St. Johns County resident who has gone to the recovery center for help is oyster farmer, Richard Dubose. Because of Hurricane Matthew, Dubose and his family have not been able to do their job, right in the middle of oyster season.
“We’re self-employed and we don’t have the money to rebuild,” said Dubose. “We wait all year long for this season, and now we can’t do our job.”
Dubose and his family own the Dubose Oyster House in St. Augustine. Dubose goes out on the river to catch oysters, then sells them to seafood eateries around town.
“The aftermath of Matthew is keeping us out of the river,” said Dubose. “Twenty-five plus years in the business and I’ve never seen anything like this. Our hands are tied behind our backs.”
Because of Hurricane Matthew, bacteria is running high in rivers around St. Johns County. The bacteria is so high that the oysters cannot safely be eaten. This closing of the rivers came just two days into the oyster season.
“Oyster season goes from Oct. 1 until June. Two days in and they shut us down completely. Now we have to wait and try to make up as much time as we can when the river opens back up.”
Dubose came to FEMA in hopes that he would have help finding a way to make up money for this lost time in the season.
“This is our entire income. Restaurants don’t get oysters and we don’t get to work. Every nickel and dime counts now-a-days,” said Dubose. “In reality we should get help with our income. I think FEMA could at least help us with some grocery money to keep our business running.”
Other residents, like Bruce Tustin, came to FEMA just to find out more about the recovery process.
“I don’t want money that is not mine,” said Tustin. “But these services come from our tax paying dollars, so why not utilize what we have to help us rebuild or at least find out more about it.”
Tustin and his family do live on the beach, but luckily no flooding occurred to his house. His fence disappeared and his 40-foot oak tree became a 20-foot oak tree, but Tustin considers himself lucky.
“Compared to what some of these people had to go through, I got lucky. But I wanted to come in here and find out what the next steps in the process are for future reference.”
Frazier encourages more residents like Tustin to come in and seek help. Even if you have been denied federal aid from FEMA at first, Frazier asks residents to come in and learn more.
“If you’ve been denied, let us figure out why and let’s help you find a way to assist,” said Frazier. “We want these survivors to get every dollar they are eligible for.”
FEMA assists with any residents who are uninsured or under-insured, but Frazier implores all residents who need help to come in to the recovery center.
“All of the tools are right here in the tool-kit,” said Frazier. “Unless you make the effort to use the tools, we can’t help you get back to your pre-disaster conditions.”
The mobile Disaster Recovery Center is on the move through St. Johns County. This week, the mobile disaster recovery center will be at Crescent Beach Park until Saturday, Nov. 19.
The FEMA – State Disaster Recovery Center is open Monday – Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The final day to register for assistance is Dec. 16. The recovery center will remain open for a few more weeks as long as people are still coming in for help.