NEW PORT RICHEY — The horror stories from Hurricane Irma abounded: lengthy power outages, damaged homes, leaky roofs, downed trees, lanais ripped apart, damaged pools.
And for two hours Monday night, Pasco residents aired their frustrations with the recovery effort during a town hall meeting at the West Pasco Government Center.
The meeting brought dozens of people seeking answers from Pasco County Emergency Management and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials. The officials, in turn, provided information about how residents can obtain assistance.
FEMA, which extended the offer to the county to hold the meeting, had a line of advisers in the government center lobby to help people register for assistance and check on their existing claims.
Among the frustrated was Danelle Unland of New Port Richey, a mother of two teenagers struggling to pay bills after losing power for nearly a week.
Unland, along with many others, complained about having to spend hours on the telephone trying to navigate a FEMA hotline and getting few answers.
"Pasco County is angry and frustrated, and I just want somebody to give me an answer," she said.
The FEMA and county officials had several messages as they were peppered with questions, and over the course of two hours the room began to empty as people got some answers. Many registered for federal assistance.
FEMA operations division supervisor Rolando Rivero said calling the agency by telephone is not a good idea right now because lines are inundated. Instead, Rivero encouraged attendees to register or check their claims during the meeting, or to enroll online.
"I know it's jammed, so that's a problem," he said of the FEMA phone system.
The FEMA officials also touched on several other points, advising people not to let any possible claim go by the wayside without trying. Among their points:
• FEMA will not provide assistance to anyone with homeowner's insurance until the property owner has had a claim denied by an insurance company.
• FEMA only offers assistance for damage to a property owner's primary structure and what is inside it. Assistance will not cover damage to things like fences, garages, lanais and pools.
• If you are a renter, FEMA does provide assistance for property that is damaged inside the residence in which you live.
• If you are a landlord, FEMA will only provide assistance for damage to your primary home, not your rental properties. FEMA, however, does partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration to offer low-interest loans to businesses that suffered damages, which can include rental properties.
• FEMA also may offer assistance to people who had to evacuate due to the storm and spend money on things like hotels. Reimbursement for buying generators may also be possible if power outages can be proved and receipts are supplied. Costs for food are not eligible for reimbursement.
• FEMA is providing temporary lodging in certain cases, but officials recommended paying particular attention to questions asked during the registration process, especially about willingness to relocate. Saying yes to that question does not mean you must leave your home, but opens the door to getting temporary assistance during repairs if the property is uninhabitable.
• FEMA also accepts requests for assistance to deal with flooding, but if you accept funds, you will be required to obtain flood insurance afterward. Otherwise, any subsequent flooding claims with FEMA will be denied.
Pasco County officials at the meeting also suggested help for people like Unland who are facing immediate needs to pay rent or other bills.
Residents may call county Human Services at (727) 834-3297 to obtain information about local assistance.
FEMA officials urged anyone seeking federal help to register at disasterassistance.gov.