Agency has given estimated $39 million to Georgia residents
After three feet of water flooded Ya’el Colquitt and her family’s Stone Mountain apartment last month, they didn’t leave. Even after many of the apartment complex’s residents fled their homes, Colquitt and her husband chose to stay. Petty thieves had begun breaking into some of the apartments, swiping valuables.
So the Colquitts and several other families decided to stay put inside their Elite at the Mountain apartments – even though floodwaters had essentially made their quarters uninhabitable. Everything from mold to untreated sewage had stagnated on the apartment’s carpet.
“It was terrible,” Colquitt said. “Just the smell.”
With little to no help from the apartment complex, Colquitt spent a day in early October looking to the federal government. FEMA specifically.
The federal agency has opened a relief office specifically for affected DeKalb County residents in the recreation center on Browns Mill Road in Lithonia. The center has processed between 30 and 40 applications per day since it opened in early October, said Hannah Vick, a FEMA spokeswoman.
FEMA and the Small Business Association are offering assistance or low-interest loans to homeowners whose homes or possessions were damaged in last month’s floods.
“We’re trying to get your home back to safe and sanitary conditions,” Vick said.
Colquitt said she was denied FEMA assistance, which maxes out at $30,000 (and most don’t receive the maximum). She had returned to the FEMA field office to meet with an SBA official to see about a loan – something that FEMA encourages despite some residents’ reticence.
“Most people don’t want loans especially with the economy the way it is,” Vick said.
FEMA encourages residents to apply for loans at the very least, she said. If they’re denied a loan, the information is sent back to FEMA to determine whether additional unconditional money is available.
“We’re trying to convince people, ‘Please, please fill out your loan application,’” Vick said.
FEMA has dispersed about $39 million to residents statewide for flood-related damage as of early October, she said. About 19,000 people have registered with FEMA in search of money. The SBA has also approved about $1.1 million in loans, she said.
Most people coming to the DeKalb County office have been seeking assistance with personal property damage, including automobiles, and flooding that ranged from about a foot to their home’s second floor, FEMA officials said.
Some people are also struggling with emotional reactions to flooding, said Karen Thornton, who was representing DeKalb CSB, a mental health organization. At least one or two people have stopped by her table at the relief center each day on average, she said. After disasters such as flooding, some people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and become overwhelmed with the task of trying to rearrange their lives.
“It’s a really normal reaction,” Thornton said.
Several people who came to her said they’ve experienced more frequent spousal arguments since the flooding. Other people already dealing with emotional issues can snap with the added tumult of a natural disaster.
“These are people who many times are already struggling, and this is just added to their burdens,” she said. Economic issues are also a factor. “A lot of people had those and didn’t need this on top of that.”
Linda Jackson, 55, of Stone Mountain was looking at the ordeal a bit differently. Eight or 9 inches flowed into her family’s basement, destroying clothing and drywall. She and her husband were on a FEMA waiting list for financial assistance with their repairs. Jackson said she took solace in the fact that she’d seen and heard of worse situations across the metro area.
“I look at what I have compared to some people… and we’re just blessed,” she said. “It could have been worse.”