The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

May 14, 2014

Government helper begs Limestone residents to register with FEMA

By Jean Cole
jean@athensnews-courier.com

— If you had storm damage to your property on April 28, register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA.

Damage, mold, leaks and other problems can occur months later, and if you failed to register with FEMA, you can’t get assistance, according to Beverlyn McDonald, public affairs specialist with the United States Small Business Administration Office of Disaster Assistance.

In the 20-plus years McDonald has worked in disaster areas — including the devastation wrought by the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri — she has seen problems crop up in homes long after the storm.

Plus, if you register with FEMA, you may qualify for a low-interest personal or business loan through SBA, she said.

To reach FEMA, call 800-621-3362 or (TTY) 800-462-7585, or go online to www.fema.gov. The toll-free telephone numbers operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time, seven days a week. Multilingual operators are available.

On the ground in Limestone

Specialists with FEMA are currently reaching out to survivors in Alabama’s hardest hit communities to help individuals register for assistance. Survivors may meet a specialist in their neighborhood or speak to one on the phone.

FEMA crews are canvassing affected areas to provide on-site registration assistance, to address immediate and emerging needs, and to answer questions specific to the registration process. Specialists can also provide referrals to additional resources.

FEMA crews are visiting homes, businesses, local organizations and churches in Limestone, Baldwin, Blount, Jefferson, Lee and Tuscaloosa counties.

Using tablets, crew members can help a survivor fill out an application for assistance on the spot ­— collecting information in person.

Crew members can be identified easily by their photo badges and either FEMA or FEMA Corps clothing. Alabama residents are reminded to ask for federal identification before providing personal information.

Survivors in designated counties may also receive a phone call from FEMA specialists if they have already registered for disaster assistance. If called, applicants could be asked to verify their identity with some of the following information:

• The last four digits of their Social Security number.

• The address of their damaged home.

• The applicant’s current mailing address.

• The applicant’s current phone number.

If applicants receive a phone call from FEMA representatives and question the validity of the caller, they can contact the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362 to verify the source of the call. The FEMA representative will then make another attempt to call the applicant back. FEMA will not call applicants to request any banking information.

Report fraud

Those who suspect anyone of committing fraudulent activities should call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline toll-free at 866-720-5721. Complaints may also be made to local law enforcement agencies and through the state's Office of Consumer Affairs at 800-392-5658.