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FEMA Assistance Centers Now Open In Northwest Florida

Debris in Perdido Key
Sandra Averhart/WUWF Public Media
Debris in Perdido Key


Residents in five Northwest Florida counties coping with damage to their property by Hurricane Sally are getting help from the feds.

On Friday, FEMA approved Individual Assistance for five counties, including Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, and Bay. That comes two weeks after the state’s requested for all programs under IA, and all categories of Public Assistance for 13 counties impacted by Sally.

“[The Florida Department of Emergency Management] had dozens of staff members in the county over the last couple of weeks, and will continue to have a significant presence in Escambia County and the FEMA Area Field Office and in the other declared counties,” said Allison McCleary with FDEM.

With the Individual Assistance declaration, families impacted by Hurricane Sally now have access to critical FEMA programs.

“Including housing assistance, crisis counseling, disaster and employment assistance, Small Business Administration assistance, disaster legal services, and case management,” McCleary said. “FDEM, Volunteer Florida, the Department of Economic Opportunity, the Department of Children and Families and other state agencies all play critical roles in administering these programs.”

Work will also continue, says McClary, on unmet needs and FDEM also serves as Florida’s administrator of FEMA’s Public Assistance Program, which was approved for the Panhandle late last month.

“After an event like Hurricane Sally, communities need help to cover the cost for debris removal, life-saving emergency protective measures, and restoring public infrastructure,” McCleary said. “FEMA and DEM work together with eligible [Public Assistance] applicants to administer this funding.”

“I know it’s been a long time coming, but we’re here – FEMA’s here; we never left, we’re still here,” said Jeff Coleman, Federal Coordinating Officer for FEMA. He adds that they began receiving applications on Friday -- just hours after the IA declaration was announced – at three locations in Escambia, and one in Santa Rosa County.

“The Southwest Branch Library, Gulf Beach Highway; the Brownsville Community Center, West DeSoto Street,” Coleman said. “The third one is at the Escambia County Extension Service, Stefani Rd. in Cantonment, and in Santa Rosa County, at Pensacola State College, Gulf Breeze Parkway.”

In Okaloosa County, applications are being taken at the Emerald Coast Healthcare Coalition, in Fort Walton Beach. Hours at all locations are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Registration is free, says Coleman, and you can register three ways.

“Visit the website, www.disasterassistance.gov; you can call the toll-free number at 1-800-621-3362,” said Coleman. “They’re open every day from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. Or you can download the FEMA app and register.”

“Upon arrival to the site you will be greeted by a FEMA staff member, who at that time will ask you to put on a face mask if you do not already have one on,” said Alexis Villasenor, FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance Crew Lead. “If you do not have one with you, we will supply you with one.”

If you choose not to wear a mask, Villasenor says you’ll receive the phone number and the website at which to register. Those choosing to proceed will be directed to a registration table.

Some of the information that the DSA specialist will ask you for as you complete your registration includes:

Your Social Security number, the Social Security numbers of those within your household, gross annual income, address and phone number to the damaged home, the name of the company of your homeowner and flood insurance policies.

And thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, FEMA’s Jeff Coleman says things are going to look different this time.

“We are not going to have a lot of folks going door-to-door like we normally do,” FEMA’s Jeff Coleman said. “We’re going to have the mobile intake centers, so it is going to look a little different, but we’re going to provide full support just like we normally do.”

Authorities estimate Hurricane Sally inflicted more than $125 million in private property damage — $111 million across Escambia County, and almost $16 million in the city of Pensacola.