FEMA sets up shop in Mansfield

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Mon., Sep. 12, 2011
Mansfield resident Barbara gets some assistance from FEMA Disaster Relief Center Manager Richard Ohmann. Barbara's basement filled with 2 feet of water after her sump pump's battery backup failed during tropical storm Irene. Photo by Melanie Savage.
Mansfield resident Barbara gets some assistance from FEMA Disaster Relief Center Manager Richard Ohmann. Barbara's basement filled with 2 feet of water after her sump pump's battery backup failed during tropical storm Irene. Photo by Melanie Savage.

For those looking to recoup losses incurred during tropical storm Irene, the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center at the Mansfield Community Center can be a tremendous resource. Local residents who are not seeking financial assistance might also benefit from a visit, as the center offers information regarding how to better prepare for the next extreme situation.

DRCs opened in every county of the state on Thursday, Sept. 8, after President Barack Obama officially signed Connecticut’s Disaster Declaration. The Mansfield site serves all of Tolland County, and is staffed by FEMA personnel and representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration. FEMA recommends that you apply online or by phone before visiting the site.

To get your application started, go to the website www.fema.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA. Be prepared with your Social Security number, a description of your losses, insurance information, directions to your damaged property and a contact telephone number. Generation of your application will set the process in motion, most likely resulting in a visit from an inspector within 10 days. It is important to get your application in, whether or not you know what coverage you’ll qualify for under insurance. Deadlines for FEMA assistance are currently Nov. 3, 2011, for physical damages, and June 4, 2012, for economic injury.

“We encourage people to apply as soon as they can after a disaster happens, because that gets the ball rolling,” said Denise Hartsock, a FEMA applicant services program specialist assigned to the Mansfield DRC. Personnel at the center can answer any questions you might have after applying. Many of the damages incurred by homeowners locally, for example, included flooding to lower levels. While groundwater flooding is not covered under a typical homeowner’s insurance policy, some damages, such as a destroyed furnace or hot water heater, might be reimbursable through FEMA.

Economic damages to local businesses might also be recoverable. After talking to local officials, “They seem to think that most of the damage here might have been economic losses for local businesses,” said Hartsock. Grocery stores and convenience stores without power were forced to throw away frozen goods. Restaurants were forced to close down during periods of power loss. Those types of damages might be covered by FEMA, if not covered by insurance. “We’re here to give whatever information or help we can,” said Hartsock.

Providing information regarding limiting current damages and preventing damages in the future is Steve Klein, a FEMA hazard mitigation specialist assigned to Mansfield. Klein can offer advice regarding how best to deal with damages incurred by Irene, such as how to dry out a wet basement to limit the growth of mold and mildew. But he also focuses on changes designed to limit damages in the event of another disaster. Recommendations for a flooded basement, for example, might include raising electrical outlets further off the floor and placing appliances on cinder blocks. “Really, my goal is to help you make sure the damage isn’t as severe the next time,” said Klein.

Klein said he’s happy to talk to residents, even if they aren’t seeking FEMA financial assistance. He has seen a lot of natural disasters, from hurricanes to tornados, and is happy to share information gleaned from training and experience. “We’re here as a resource to the community,” said Klein. Klein can also offer advice regarding hiring contractors for damage repairs.

One of the recommendations he makes to most people is a visit to www.floodsmart.gov, a website offering information regarding the national Flood Insurance Program. “You can enter your address right there on the site, and get a rough quote for flood insurance,” said Klein. “If you don’t have an agent, it’ll even give you a list of suggested agents.” Flood insurance is an important consideration, said Klein.

While some Irene-induced groundwater damages might be covered by FEMA, “FEMA’s goal is to make the damaged home safe, sanitary, and functional,” said Hartsock. So while FEMA might be able to help you replace drywall and a furnace, it won’t cover furniture or a flat-screen television, damages that might be covered under a flood insurance policy.

“I always suggest that people at least look into the flood insurance,” said Klein.

For expenses over and above what is covered by insurance or FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration might be able to help. The SBA offers low-interest loans for renters, homeowners, business owners and small agricultural cooperatives located within a declared disaster area. Interest rates range from 2.5 percent to 4.0 percent for applicants with no credit available through other sources. There are SBA representatives available at the Mansfield site, or contact the SBA by calling 800-659-2955, e-mailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov, or going to the website at www.sba.gov.

The hours for the Tolland County FEMA Disaster Recovery Center are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The center is located at the Mansfield Community Center, 10 South Eagleville Road in Storrs-Mansfield.

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