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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 22, 2011

Rising from the mud
Homeowners rebuild in the wake of Irene

By Jo E. Prout

ALBANY COUNTY — Nearly 600 Albany County residents have registered for disaster relief after Tropical Storm Irene swept through New York two weeks ago, but Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives are urging more people to register.

Locally, towns are giving priority-status to permit applications for those residents who need to rebuild failed foundations and structures.

“We want anyone with any kind of damage to register, even if they have insurance,” said FEMA Public Information Officer Nathan Custer. “The help is there for everyone. There’s no minimal amount of damage they have to reach.”

Custer said that more than $50 million is available for New York residents affected by Tropical Storm Irene.

“Anyone with any damage in any of the 27 declared counties is urged to register,” Custer told The Enterprise. Albany County was declared to be in a state of emergency on Aug. 31, and the deadline to register for assistance is 60 days from that, or near the end of October, he said.

Financial assistance and temporary housing is available for both homeowners and renters, he said. Individuals can register by phone at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), or online at www.disasterassistance.gov.

Those who need help can find it at disaster recovery centers; the Cornell Cooperative Extension on Martin Road in Voorheesville is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. People are not required to have registered before going to a center, Custer said. Phones are available at the center for disaster victims to use to register to receive a nine-digit registration number. Staffers at the centers need the number to check the status of any requested help, Custer said.

“The privacy of survivors registering with FEMA is protected,” he said.

Step by step

Custer said that those seeking relief should have basic information ready before they call to register for assistance. Callers need to provide the address of their principal residence, whether it is a home or an apartment, and a Social Security number. They must also give a bank account number and routing number so that any assistance can be deposited directly into their account.

Callers must provide a means of contact, like a cell-phone number or the number where they may be temporarily living. A FEMA inspector will call within a few days to meet residents at their property to look over damage, Custer said.

The inspector will see what needs to be done to make the property “safe, secure, and functional,” Custer said, adding, “It’s not going to make you whole, again.”

Assistance can cover repair costs for drywall, carpeting, appliances like washers and dryers or water heaters found in basements, he said.

“The average award in New York State is over $5,000 for individuals,” he said.

The FEMA inspector will send in a report, listing the square footage damaged by the storm and any items that must be replaced, he said.

“We do not duplicate insurance coverage,” Custer said. “They may have to wait until an insurance settlement is resolved.”

Temporary housing assistance in rental housing is available for up to two months, he said. That time can be extended under special circumstances.

Custer said that there is no way to gauge how many people need assistance but have not applied, but he said that the number of those registering for help increases daily. More than 25,500 people have registered for assistance statewide. Albany County registrations are hovering under 600, with only 18 visits to the Martin Road disaster recovery center.

Those who have registered but not heard back can call the 800 number to check on their status, Custer said.

In addition to the FEMA aid, Custer said, the Small Business Administration can offer low-interest disaster-recovery loans to individual homeowners, renters, or small businesses at rates near 2.5 percent. The SBA is represented at the disaster recovery centers along with FEMA, he said. 

“The goal is to get as much as possible to as many people as possible, as the laws and regulations permit,” Custer said. “We’re moving as quickly as we can, and getting good feedback from survivors who are pleased.”

Local reconstruction

Jeffrey Pine, Code Enforcement Officer in New Scotland, where deadly flooding at the Onesquethaw Creek damaged homes and bridges, said that the town has only seen a couple of permit requests.

“We haven’t done a full account,” he said about the number of damaged homes in New Scotland.

The permit requests were to rebuild two failed foundations, he said. A third home was blocked up, but the owner is waiting for FEMA assistance before applying for a permit, Pine said.

Pine said that some people are not yet at a stage where a permit is needed. In some cases, he said, he has told residents to “go to it, and come back.”

In Guilderland, flooding along the Hungerkill and Normanskill damaged nearby homes.

“There were five foundations that suffered a fairly substantial amount of damage,” said Chief Building and Zoning Inspector Donald Cropsey. Some of the repairs have already been completed, he said.

“We performed inspections on the new work,” he said.

In Guilderland, the town board previously waived permit fees for those affected by Irene.

Resident Richard Haggerty, of Foundry Road, lost one wall of his foundation while he was in the basement, Cropsey said. Haggerty did not return a call before press time.

Three of the failures townwide were on Johnston Road near the Normanskill. One Johnston Road resident with a failed foundation decided to move his home to higher ground, Cropsey said. Cropsey issued a permit for the owner to use a crane to move the existing home to a higher elevation on a new foundation.

“We put all these permits on top of the list,” Cropsey said. He said that the process is ordinarily short, anyway.

“If someone comes in, if plans are complete, we can issue a permit in short order,” Cropsey said. “We handled these straight away.”

One home, on Leesome Lane, was damaged even without a nearby stream, he said. Water built up around the house, causing the foundation to fail.

“Overall,” Cropsey concluded of flooding in Guilderland, “there was not that much structural damage. The fire department had a lot of pump out calls.”

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