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The time to apply for FEMA aid is now

Date: 6/20/2011

June 20, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — On June 16, Gov. Deval Patrick came to Court Square the day after President Barack Obama declared Hampden and Worcester counties federal disaster areas with a message of thanks and hope.

Patrick said, "It will take time to rebuild, but we will rebuild."

Mayor Domenic Sarno promised the city would come out of the carnage "bigger and better."

The Obama Administration announced on June 15, two weeks after the tornado ripped through parts of Westfield, West Springfield, Springfield, Wilbraham, Monson, Brimfield, Sturbridge and Charlton, that residents and businesses affected by the storm could be eligible for additional assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

At a press conference at City Hall on June 15, Nick Russo, assistant director of Federal Coordinating Officer Operations for FEMA, urged everyone who is a victim to call 1-800-621-3362 to register with FEMA for potential aid.

The registration center is open from 7 to 1 a.m., he said. Those with a connection to the Internet can register online at, he added. Registrants will receive an identification number, which they should keep handy in their dealings with FEMA, Russo said.

Russo explained FEMA would soon begin opening its disaster relief centers in the affected areas to service victims. He said that some victims might receive a denial of aid letter from FEMA due to a "glitch" in the system. In that case, they should come to the centers with the letter and the registration number to learn more.

Calling the insurance carrier for a home or business is the first step, Russo said. FEMA funds, for those who qualify, are an additional resource for recovery.

Russo emphasized that the aid available to homeowners and businesses may be supplemented through low interest loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA). Under the SBA loans, eligible renters and homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 at interest rates as low as 2.6 percent for periods up to 30 years, Jose Vejarano, a public affairs specialist for the SBA, added.

According to information released by FEMA on June 16, a homeowner or renter could qualify for emergency funding for repairs to a home, limited cash assistance for emergency items for clothing, food and toiletries and rent for up to 18 months of temporary housing.

Russo said that once registered, a FEMA inspector would come to the home or business. Within seven to 10 days after that meeting, survivors should receive a check for the federal assistance. If a victim has been referred to the SBA for a disaster loan, he or she will be contacted with further details.

Russo said the agency has had to respond to 43 disasters so far this year in 27 field offices.

FEMA will stay in the affected communities as long as it takes to service home and business owners, Russo said.

"We're a long way from completing this mission," he explained.


At the June 15 press event, Sarno explained the city had used the disaster response plan officials had prepared for hurricanes and blizzards.

"It's a miracle ... that nobody was killed," the mayor said. He added that less than 40 Springfield residents suffered major injuries.

Noting the example of the South End Community Center, which lost most of its roof, Sarno said there were 100 children attending programs at the time of the tornado, but no one was injured.

Sarno told Reminder Publications there would be two meetings next week, one for East Forest Park residents on June 23 and another for the South End and Maple High Six Corners neighborhoods on June 24 to answer questions and present more information. Additional details about the meetings were not available at press time.

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