By Bob Anderson
Florida Parishes bureau
September 07, 2012
FRENCH SETTLEMENT — Flood victims packed Town Hall on Wednesday to hear descriptions of available federal assistance.
Many left expressing hope they will qualify.
Representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency manned nine computers to help residents of Livingston and Ascension parishes apply for help.
Homeowners may qualify for up to $31,400 to deal with damage beyond the amount covered by insurance, Maggie Dibendetto, of FEMA, told the crowd.
“It will help toward replacement, but it won’t make you whole again,” she told the crowd.
In some cases, people can get FEMA funds within two days of having their property inspected, Dibendetto said.
Kent Lott, of French Settlement, who has no flood insurance, said he left the meeting hopeful he would get FEMA help in dealing with his flooded home.
He said he also lost his truck and other items in the chest-high water.
David B. Stafford, who lives in the same area, said he didn’t have flood insurance because he has never needed it. He said he also left the meeting feeling he might get FEMA help to repair his home, which received a foot of water.
Renters also can get benefits, including money for temporary housing, if they no longer can live in their home because of flooding caused by Hurricane Isaac, Dibendetto said.
Brandy Vance, who said she “had fish swimming in the kitchen” of the place she rents in French Settlement, said she is hopeful of getting temporary housing from FEMA.
The Small Business Administration’s Michael Flores told the crowd that low-interest loans are available for both homeowners and business owners who suffered storm-related losses.
Homeowners may be able to borrow up to $200,000 for property damage, and business owners may be able to borrow up to $2 million for a combination of property damage and economic injury, he said.
Renters can borrow up to $40,000 to replace personal property, Flores said.
“It’s a way to recover,” he said of the loans.
The deadline for applying for physical damage loans is Oct. 30, according to SBA documents.
FEMA and the SBA will share the Disaster Recovery Center when it opens in Livingston Parish, Flores said.
That center, designed to help people with storm damage claims, could open as early as Thursday, Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks said.
Homeowners also can use storm damage to reduce their assessments and resulting property taxes, Ascension Parish Assessor-elect Mert Smiley told the crowd that packed the Town Council’s meeting room and spilled into hallways and other rooms.
To qualify for a reduction on this year’s property taxes, residents need to submit receipts to their assessors by Sept. 13, he said.
People with flood damage can start cleaning up now and still qualify for federal assistance even though their homes haven’t been inspected, FEMA and SBA officials said in answer to questions from the crowd.
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said taking pictures or videos of losses should provide proof of loss in dealing with private insurance companies.
Cassidy hosted the meeting, which was attended by numerous area public officials.
French Settlement Mayor Toni Guitrau said one subdivision and several streets remain flooded in the municipality.
The floodwaters are slowly dropping, but a number of homes remain flooded and without power in the southeastern part of Livingston Parish, said Parish Councilwoman Sonya Collins, who represents that district.
Parish officials asked people to take their debris to the roadside and to separate it into vegetative waste and household waste.