Disaster Declarations Still Sought from FEMA, would they help all homeowners?

Michelle Gilliken spent 30 years fixing up her home on Tybee. But Hurricane Matthew has made it unlivable. “When I came back last week there was about a foot of water inside,” she tells me.

Gilliken is facing a long list of expenses to clean up including renting a mini trailer to store what is left of her belongings. Then there is fixing the house itself which means gutting it and starting from scratch. She does have both flood and homeowners insurance but says deductibles are about $4,000. “That is something I don’t have on a fixed income,” she says.

Gilliken is hoping that a disaster declaration from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) will give her financial help including temporary living expenses.

Dennis Jones from Chatham Emergency Management Agency says a declaration for individual property owners could help people like Gilliken but it is “not a guarantee.”

He says an individual declaration is mostly designed to help people who have no insurance coverage at all. With that said, he says a FEMA declaration for individual properties “opens up a list of programs and possibilities like low interest loans that might cover a deductible for example. ”

Jones says Chatham County is seeking two declarations, one for the cost of clean up to public property like government buildings. The second is a declaration for individual property owners. He says word of whether either or both declarations will be be approved may come later this week.

FEMA Director Craig Fugate who was in Savannah for a planned visit Monday said he couldn’t provide an exact timeline.  He says assessments are taking place now and that there are ways to possibly help homeowners who have insurance as well. “There will be a variety of programs that are available if that happens (an individual declaration).”

Fugate advised homeowners who have insurance to “file a claim now.”  He says as the process moves forward, FEMA will evaluate whether homeowners’ who may have uninsured losses may be reimbursed.

He also says a declaration can help small business owners get low interest loans.

And while it’s understandable that someone like Gilliken would want help from FEMA, but Fugate and Jones says the best thing that she and other property owners can do is “not wait.”

Jones says people should be doing all they can now to clean up and secure their propriety. He suggests keeping receipts and says if an individual FEMA declaration comes , the receipts may provide a way to get reimbursement.


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