Anyone who suffered property damage during severe spring storms May 2-8 in Adair, Cherokee, Muskogee, Okmulgee, Pottawatomie, Seminole and Tulsa counties can get personal assistance at the Disaster Relief Recovery Center in Stilwell.
Both FEMA and U.S. Small Business Administration have specialists on site to help survivors with disaster assistance applications, upload documents, and answer questions six days a week. For those specialists, helping is more than a job. Between the two groups, there are several financial options that could assist almost everyone.
The specialists are from across the U.S. and some speak Spanish, but interpreters for more than 250 languages are a phone call away if an individual will let them know.
“This location is available to help any of the seven counties, not just Adair County; all are welcome to come in and speak to a representative, register or ask questions about registration they’ve already started. We want to help as many people as we can,” said FEMA Public Information Officer Juan Ayala, via telephone.
At the Stilwell site are three FEMA and two SBA staff. Some are retired, and for others, this is a second career. Among the latter are Pamela Bradley, from Lafayette, Louisiana, a public information officer who assists with applicant services.
“We’re considered national assets, and FEMA can send us anywhere and we’re happy to go. We’re all willing to leave our families, pets, friends, and gardens to lift these people up and help,” said Bradley.
She also wants to make people aware that the only way the government will know the extent of the damage is if people register.
“If they spent out-of-pocket money for repairs, they may be able to be reimbursed. The State of Oklahoma provides assistance, and we can share that information as well,” said Bradley.
Darrick Cox came from Charleston, West Virginia, to aid applicants.
“We encourage people not to be reluctant to come, whether it’s a language barrier or other reasons, to see if we can help,” Cox said.
Crew Leader Edgardo Bermudaez, from Puerto Rico, helps with individual assistance.
“We want to help people with their case and can advise about documentation, but we are not the decision-makers. The applications go to the National Processing Center,” said Bermudaez.
With SBA, Anna Scott, from Lancaster, Texas, and Akilah Hodge, from Sacramento, California, are customer service reps. Corey Williams, Citrus Heights, California, public information officer, also does outreach and was set up at the Westville Summer Slam last Saturday.
The most common question people ask the U.S. Small Business Administration after they register with FEMA is, why SBA?
“In times of disaster, SBA helps not only businesses of all sizes, but homeowners, resters and nonprofits,” said Williams.
Homeowners can borrow up to $200,000 for repair or replacement of disaster damaged real estate and up to $40,000 for repairs or replacement of disaster damaged personal property like cars and trucks, he said.
“And, a really great thing: If a homeowner or renter is unable to be approved, then we refer them back to FEMA for Other Needs Assistance. SBA does loans and FEMA can do grants,” Williams said.
Scott said with her social work background, her heart goes out to people when she hears about disasters on television.
“I’m happy I can help people this way, and when disasters happen, a lot of people bounce back really well,” said Scott.
Hodge likes working with the applicants.
“I like to hear the survivors tell their stories, and I love to help people,” Hodge said.
In Stilwell, the Disaster Recovery Center is in the Adair County EMS command center at 4 E. Walnut St., across from Mrs. Schwans. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and they're closed Sunday. Masks are required for employees, volunteers and survivors.
Two locations are open, with the other DRC in Tulsa at the Bixby Community Center, 211 N. Cabanas Ave. Bixby site hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. respectively; they're closed Saturday and Sunday.
How long the centers are open will be determined by foot traffic.