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Residents in Central Florida Find Help at Recovery Centers

In Osceola, at the Heart Memorial Library, the county’s disaster recovery center, a steady stream of residents seeking assistance after the hurricane walked in and out of the building.

Residents walk along Estero Boulevard with suitcases as they leave Fort Myers Beach and Estero Island, two days after Hurricane Ian hit Florida’s west coast as a Category storm. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald/TNS)
Pedro Portal/TNS
(TNS) - Central Florida residents who have suffered due to Hurricane Ian can get help from any of the region’s four FEMA disaster recovery centers, the latest opening in Seminole County on Monday.

In Osceola, at the Heart Memorial Library, the county’s disaster recovery center, a steady stream of residents seeking assistance after the hurricane walked in and out of the building holding folders full of photos and documents.

With a full parking lot, Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives on-site said by midmorning Monday they had already helped 50 people with many more expected in the afternoon. The center opened Sunday afternoon.

On the second floor of the library, residents were greeted by rows of plastic chairs filled with people waiting to be called into a room of FEMA representatives and then transition into another room full of state agencies.

Lucia Ospina, 56, waited outside the library for her husband to finish speaking with FEMA representatives because the air conditioning inside was bothering her nose after her surgery to remove a tumor from inside her nostril just a month ago.

Ospina lives in a mobile home community in Kissimmee that shook violently in the wind of Hurricane Ian and water entered from the roof into one of the rooms.

“It was so scary,” Ospina said in Spanish. “We kept feeling the entire house rock back and forth and I thought since this house has been here for 20 years it was going to fall on one side and crush us.”

Ospina’s husband had shoulder surgery two months ago and is on disability leave from his maintenance job until December while Ospina hasn’t been able to work for a month in her house cleaning job due to her surgery.

“It’s really hard right now,” Ospina said. “But I thank God every day it wasn’t worse, the entire rest of the neighborhood had really bad flooding.”

On Tuesday, the couple has an appointment with their insurance company to see if they can have an inspector take a look at their leaky roof to make their first claim in 20 years of living in this home.

Ospina said the whole process at the disaster recovery center had only taken an hour and compared to hurricane Irma in 2017, FEMA and the state are paying much better attention to residents’ needs. In 2017, Hurricane Irma ripped off the back porch of her house but Ospina and her husband decided against using FEMA resources because they found the process complicated.

Across the state, over 416,000 applicants have already filed for assistance, said Andrew D. Friend, a FEMA director, during a Seminole County press conference Monday. Residents can apply online at, call 1-800-621-3362 or download the FEMA app.

Orange County’s Barnett Park disaster center serviced more than 100 individuals since it opened on Sunday, according to a media release.

A disaster recovery center is the place to go for application updates and help with applying, Friend said.

Each disaster recovery center has an outpost of the FEMA Individual Assistance, FEMA Mitigation, Small Business Administration, Crisis Counseling, Florida Department of Children and Families, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Agency for Persons with Disabilities to provide information and assistance.

Residents who have gotten a letter from FEMA saying they are ineligible for disaster relief should go to a disaster relief center to see if they can become eligible by submitting more information, Friend said.

“One of the benefits of coming to a disaster recovery center is you can tell your story and they can help navigate you to see if you will have that eligibility or not,” Friend said. “If you end up not being eligible for federal assistance for one reason or another oftentimes there are other resources available as well so by coming to a DRC you can get connected to those as well.”

Where to find a disaster recovery center

In Orange County, Barnett Park in Orlando will serve as the disaster recovery center opening from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at 4801 W. Colonial Drive.

In Osceola County, Hart Memorial Library at 211 E Dakin Ave. in Kissimmee, is also open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.

In Seminole County, the newly opened disaster recovery center is located at Seminole State College at 100 Weldon Blvd., Sanford. The center opened Monday afternoon and will be open from from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily starting Tuesday.

In Lake County, the Lake County Extension Office will serve as the disaster recovery center at 1951 Woodlea Road, Tavares. The center opens from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Residents do not have to live in the county where they seek assistance from a disaster recovery center.

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