FEMA Official Answers Metro Detroit Flood Questions

By Bill Laitner, Detroit Free Press
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Sept. 03--Editor's note: An earlier version of this article should have said that if metro Detroit receives a presidential disaster declaration, the U.S. Small Business Administration may provide low-interest loans to homeowners, as well as loans to renters and nonprofit groups for damage that is not covered by insurance or other forms of aid. This version is correct.

Sandy Jasmund -- a veteran of aid efforts after numerous floods, tornadoes and Hurricane Katrina -- is assigned to the Chicago-based Region 5 office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She was in metro Detroit last week with about 20 other FEMA officials, as they inspected damage from the Aug. 11 flooding,prior to decisions by Gov. Rick Snyder and President Barack Obama as to whether metro Detroit is to receive federal disaster aid.

The Free Press asked Jasmund questions provided by people directly involved with the storm damage.

Question from Claire Galed, public services manager with the city of Huntington Woods, where an estimated 75% of homes had severe basement backups:

"This seems like a huge emergency to us. But as bad as it was, how would FEMA rank what's happened in metro Detroit with other disasters that have qualified for federal aid?"

Answer: "As a rule we never compare disasters. When people lose their belongings and their sense of safety, it can be devastating, no matter what the circumstances and no matter what part of the country it happens in.

"I've seen all types of disasters, across the country. People need to pull together as a community in order to recover."

Question from Andre Hutchins, owner of Hutchins Temperature Design, a Detroit-based plumbing and heating firm. Hutchins has been replacing and repairing numerous furnaces and hot-water heaters on Detroit's east side.

"A lot of people live in their basements, entertain in their basements. They've lost TVs, furnaces, water heaters, all kinds of appliances, furniture, stereos. How much of that does FEMA cover, or will they just consider this (storm) an act of God?"

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A: "When a FEMA inspector looks at a damaged house, they apply our regulations to determine what are the essential living areas. The basement might be essential, but if someone just has a basement used for recreation, it's not considered an essential living area. If they have a bedroom down there, it has to be a bedroom that's occupied on a daily basis."

Question from Diane Picard, 59, of Warren, whose house that is built on a crawl space had sewage-laced water rise on its first floor about 2 feet. Picard and her husband have had relatives helping them rip out ruined drywall and dispose of contaminated furniture.

"I don't know what my (total) damage is yet. My appliances are running, but how long? We haven't looked in our crawl space under the house, but we expect there's going to be black mold down there. It could be months before we know how much damage is here. Is FEMA taking that into account?"

A: "Mold can be a serious issue and that's why we encourage people to clean up immediately, once it's safe to go in and start the cleanup process. All the damage we're seeing is being taken into account. If people do have to buy new things or pay for extensive repairs, they should keep all their receipts because if a disaster is declared for individual assistance, they need receipts to verify their losses."

Question from the Free Press: If people don't get outright grants from FEMA, what about low-interest loans?

A: "FEMA does not give loans. The types of assistance FEMA gives are grant-based, whereas the Small Business Administration offers low-interest loans (in some cases to homeowners and renters). That's why you see their representatives going around with us this week."

Contact Bill Laitner: [email protected]


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