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FEMA Opens Disaster Recovery Center in Venice

It's best to register with FEMA now — within the 60-day window — so if hidden damage is discovered in the coming months, homeowners still may be eligible for FEMA reimbursement.

(TNS) - On the first weekday morning of service at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Recovery Center at the Venice Community Center, there was virtually no wait for people seeking assistance in dealing with damage from Hurricane Irma.

"There's not been a huge crowd, but that's good news," said FEMA spokesman Tim Hall. "We haven't seen a lot of people, which we're hoping means the good people of Sarasota County and the Venice community have weathered the storm fairly well.

"Or the bad news could be they're thinking, 'I'm not going to worry about registering.'"

Hall stressed than it's better to register with FEMA now — within the 60-day window — so if hidden damage is discovered in the coming months, homeowners still may be eligible for FEMA reimbursement.

Forty-nine people signed up for assistance Sunday at the Venice Community Center, Hall said. FEMA workers will keep the station open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Thursday at the center, at 326 Nokomis Ave. S.

Also a significant number of county residents have applied for FEMA help online. As of 4 p.m. Monday, 14,972 residents in Sarasota County have applied for FEMA assistance, with 10,212 residents referred to the Individual Housing Program — which indicates they had some damage to their home, or want to make a claim on something that happened to their home.

This is the only Disaster Recovery Center currently opened by FEMA for Sarasota, Charlotte and DeSoto counties. In Manatee County, FEMA representatives will be at a variety of locations this week.

FEMA encourages people to apply for aid online, but, Hall noted, the centers are there for the human touch.

"Folks love talking to somebody one-on-one," Hall said. "The easiest way is to go online, disasterassistance.gov, but also it just feels good to sit down and talk to a real person, where you can say, 'I have this specific problem and that specific problem.'"

Curtis Conrad, who staffed the "Mitigation" information station in Venice, said virtually everyone who enters the center talks with him.

"Most of it has been roof damage," Conrad said. "I haven't seen that much flooding in this area — it's been mostly roof."

Conrad's main job is to help residents with options to eliminate or reduce future damage to their homes.

"It can be something as simple as putting a tarp across your roof so the rain won't keep flowing in there, or it could be as complicated as maybe raising your structure, so you no longer flood," he said. "We're trying to eliminate future risk."

Venice resident Donald Janssen stopped by the center with his sister-in-law Regina Kinney, among the many people opening a case with FEMA for roof damage.

"Neighbor's tree broke in half, fell on top of our house," Janssen said, then added that working with the FEMA representatives was an easy process. "We did the form just confirming what was going on."

Two other trees also hit the roof of the 90-year-old home that Janssen and his wife Teresa have owned for decades.

"We're running on a generator and cleaning up where we can," he said.

In addition to a mitigation expert and tables for one-on-one consultations with FEMA representatives, the Disaster Recovery Center also includes a Small Business Administration expert, who can help business owners get the help they need — including low-interest loans — to keep going.

"That allows people to keep their wheels underneath them, to keep the doors open and keep that business in that local community," Hall said.

Hall stressed that the most important message for people affected Hurricane Irma is to register now.

"One of the most important things for us, is people need to register, whether you do it online, or do it in person, 60 days from the time a declaration occurs, you need to go and you need to register, so you're in the system," Hall said. "We want to help you. Our desire is that we help you every way that we can but we need to hear from you and we need you to come by this disaster recovery center and see what we can do for you.

"None of us are ever going to be the same. If you're a survivor from Hurricane Irma, your life is never going to be the same," he added. "Our lives will never be the same. But we can find a new normal and we can work from that, get our legs back underneath us, get our feet back on the ground, maybe get your business reopened, get your life back to a new normal, so you can begin doing what you want to do in your local community."

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©2017 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

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