Frustrated with FEMA

September 20, 2008 6:10:44 AM PDT
With thousands of people in need, there is now one central place people can go for help. FEMA has opened the first disaster recovery center. ROAD TO RECOVERY: Breaking news on Ike | POD locations | Person locator | Local gas station report | Hurricane guide | Viewer photos of Ike | Latest power numbers

It's up and running at Ellington Field in Southeast Houston. This facility was supposed to close at 6pm. but we're told for people who have been here and are staying in line, they're staying open until the last person in line makes it through to register for a claim number or check on the status of their claim ticket.

Here's the other angle on all this today: We're being told there could be a three hour wait across the street at the American Legion for people who got here later in the day and wanted to get in here. Those people we are told will not get in here today, they'll have to return when the center opens again at 9:00 a.m. Saturday.

That's one frustration. Another frustration is being voiced by those who did get in today, and didn't get the help they expected.

"Some permanent help," one woman said, sounding tired and exasperated. "I'm not getting it. They're not offering it. It's not here."

It's been nearly a week since Hurricane Ike left millions of people homeless, in the dark and worried about their future. They were finally able to sit down face to face with FEMA representatives. But those people expecting to get some immediate relief left here feeling more helpless than when they came.

"Ten days," said one man. "'You'll hear from somebody in ten days.' I've been sleeping in my car for a week!"

"They kicked me out the door with this right here," another man said, showing a form. "And they told me to fill it out and bring it back again. I don't have gas to come back."

FEMA says you have to go through this process of first registering for a claim number to see if you qualify for federal grants.

"We understand that there are quite a few people who are upset," said a FEMA spokesman Friday. "And rightfully so. But there is a process that people have to go through. These are taxpayer dollars that we are trying to help people as expeditiously and in a timely and accurate manner..."

Frustrating for everyone, including Congressman Nick Lampson, who helped get this mobile registration center operating two days ago. He says he did it to try to speed up this lengthy process.

"They are hurting, there is some frustration," Lampson acknowledged Friday. "But I think if we work together and find a way to pull together we're going to move forward. That's what we've got to do. We want our communities functioning again."

The mobile center at the American Legion will remain open until it is no longer needed. You can register there for a claim number and check on the status of your claim number. You can do the same thing across the street at Ellington Field seven days a week, from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

We are told if you are approved for federal money, you can receive as much as $28,000. If you are not approved, you can still talk here with other agencies here, like the Small Business Association which assists not just small businesses but people who rent and own homes to get a low interest loan.

So far, some 400,000 people in our area have registered with FEMA for assistance, and 4.5 million dollars have been distributed. Those numbers are expected to increase as more people get online to register.

You can call and register with FEMA at any time, by calling 1-800-621-FEMA.

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