Bill Zallar, a 49-year-old Chesapeake Beach resident, was trying hard to find the bright side of the 60-foot-long, 5-foot-deep hole left in his back yard by rains from Hurricane Floyd.
"If it was just a little deeper, I'd have my swimming pool," Zallar joked to Federal Emergency Management Agency workers assembled at the North Beach firehouse on Wednesday.
A mobile FEMA recovery center opened in Southern Maryland last week, with representatives available to advise hurricane victims about grants, low-interest loans and other assistance. The center's first stop was North Beach, followed by Solomons.
FEMA, as well as state and local organizations, is moving from county to county in the area with loan applications and hurricane survival guides. A recovery center will be open today and tomorrow in St. Mary's County at the Carter State Office Building public meeting room in Leonardtown. The hours will be 2 to 8 p.m. today and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow.
In Charles County, aid officials will be at the Bel Alton firehouse on Bel Alton Newtown Road from 2 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday.
At the North Beach site last week, nine homeowners dropped by--more than anticipated for that area, said FEMA center director David Johnston.
Zallar and others, with before-and-after photos of their damaged property in hand, showed FEMA and state officials beach erosion, backed-up sewers, and trees that had fallen on homes. Hurricane victims received colorful pamphlets and one-on-one counseling sessions, but little promise of financial aid, some residents said.
"Basically, it looks like we're on our own," said John Harmon, a Dares Beach resident whose home sustained more than $15,000 in damage. Rains from Floyd caused his entire sloping back yard to wash away, taking along wooden decks and staircases. "We got a lot of nice brochures, but when it comes down to it, there's just no money."
Johnston, of FEMA, said the aid being offered to hurricane victims is meant for minimal repairs--not a complete restoration of property. Federal grants, he said, "will just start them out."
Residents seeking aid are advised to register damage with FEMA before going to the centers by calling 1-800-462-9029. More information is available on the FEMA Web page at http://www.fema.gov.
Among the assistance programs that FEMA offers are:
Grants for minimal repairs to qualified homeowners who need to make damaged homes habitable. The grants are only for needed repairs not covered by insurance.
Grants to help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation, essential home repairs, essential personal property repair or replacement, and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, state and charitable aid programs. Typical grants average about $2,100. Contents of refrigerators and freezers are not covered.
Unemployment payments for up to 26 weeks for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and who do not qualify for state benefits. This group includes self-employed individuals.
Low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance.
Loans up to $1.5 million for small businesses that have suffered disaster-related cash flow problems and need funds for working capital.
Loans up to $500,000 for farmers, ranchers and aquaculture operators to cover production and property losses, excluding primary residence.