Monday, December 18, 2017
Public safety

Hundreds contact Hernando disaster recovery center since Tropical Storm Debby


James McCoy was at church that Sunday afternoon when the rain just wouldn't stop.

By the time the Brooksville resident got home, Tropical Storm Debby had already hit him hard: Water was starting to surround his home like a moat, washing out his driveway, and a lightning strike had killed many of his appliances.

His air conditioning hasn't come back in more than 20 days.

"It's been nasty muggy," the 40-year-old McCoy said. "I open the windows with the fans on, but it's kind of hard. You've got a lot of smells around from where the septic tanks got flooded out."

McCoy is one of hundreds of Hernando County residents who are seeking help at one of the state's busiest disaster recovery centers.

Through Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had seen about 340 Hernando residents come to the center for help, while more than 950 had called the agency to request information or register for disaster aid, said FEMA spokeswoman Dasha Castillo.

Across the state, residents from only three other counties, including Pasco, have called FEMA in greater volumes.

But those numbers don't tell the entire story.

More than 1,000 Hernando residents on food stamps who lost food because of Debby came to the center to have their June benefits restored. The deadline to get those benefits was Sunday.

"They were very busy," said William D'Aiuto, the interim regional managing director for the Florida Department of Children and Families. "I have to say it was a greater response than we anticipated. "

D'Aiuto said the center was staffed and ready.

"We've been able to serve everyone who came through," he said.

Officials restored food stamp benefits to 550 people on Saturday, their busiest day. They restored benefits to 327 on Sunday.

The America Red Cross' contingent at the center was also busy, helping roughly 225 families through Monday.

"We weren't expecting as many individuals there," said Michele Jones, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Mid-Florida Region. "We thought the need was very small in Hernando County. But as the people came in and told us their stories, we saw so many people that needed assistance."

It made for a hectic weekend.

McCoy said that he waited for more than two hours Saturday before he could speak with a FEMA representative. The news wasn't that reassuring. They said they couldn't help him until he had gotten a denial from his insurance company because his insurance only covered fire damage, he said.

So on Monday, denial in hand, he came back. Now he must wait for an inspector to come to his house before he can get any aid.

"I'm hoping they help," he said. "If not, it's not the end of the world."

Statewide, FEMA has distributed roughly $12 million to individuals and families affected by Debby. Of that, roughly $10.5 million has gone toward housing assistance. A per-county breakdown was not immediately available, Castillo said.

The crowds Tuesday morning were considerably smaller, with only a handful of people in the back room of the disaster recovery center seeking aid. But they all had substantial need.

One disabled veteran had been living out of his truck after his house flooded. Another woman was forced to live with a friend after her roof was badly damaged.

Maria Barile, 56, has been living with a leaky ceiling in her kitchen and garage since the tropical storm rolled through. Mold is also starting to sprout.

"I don't have any other place to go," the Spring Hill resident said.

With no insurance and an $11-an-hour job, Barile said she can't afford to fix up the house. The storm-related problems come on top of recent ailments that hospitalized her for 17 days and sinkholes that have led to cracks in her house.

"I have a lot of problems," Barile said. "I'm trying to stand up."

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.


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