Helping others

Sharon Irvin works with the Small Business Administration and helps a storm victims get registered for SBA assistance. FEMA and SBA opened a new disaster recovery center Monday morning at the Jacksonville Community Center for people applying for assistance. 

JACKSONVILLE — A disaster recovery center opened here Monday and officials encourage residents to come to the site for any help they need navigating the process for obtaining federal disaster relief. 

The site will remain open at the Jacksonville Community Center Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. until further notice.

Traffic into and out of the site seemed to be slow on Monday, but that’s not surprising in the initial days a recovery center is opened, said Robert Porreca, a public information officer with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“There’s usually a slow start,” Porreca said, “but things will pick up once the message gets out there.”

The message, he said, is that help is available for storm victims who need it.

“We want people to know it’s there,” he said. “We’re all about the survivors.”

Several federal agencies, including FEMA and the Small Business Administration, have officials on site answering questions about the relief application process. Residents can be in and out in under an hour, officials said.

As of Monday, 1,000 people had registered for federal disaster assistance across the state because of the March storm, a number that could increase as disaster recovery sites open for business.

“This is just a guess,” Porreca said of the number registered for assistance, “but I’d say we’re probably not even near the number of people registered that need to be. There are a lot more people out there who need help.”

One reason such recovery sites are important is that the specifics of each resident’s problems can be complicated.

“It’s hard to just say generally ‘if this thing happened, then here’s what you can get,’” Porreca said. “That’s why it’s important that people come and see what’s available — to see what help they can get. Every case is different.”

Representatives from FEMA and SBA also stressed that to receive assistance, many times those affected must be denied relief from one agency before they can receive from another, so completing the process, even if it leads to a denial, is crucial to receiving relief funds.

To register for federal disaster assistance, those affected by the storm can visit www.disasterassistance.gov, call  1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing- and speech-impaired, or, as officials strongly suggest, visit the Jacksonville Community Center.

Star Staff Writer Lee Hedgepeth: 256-600-2463. On Twitter: @lhedgepeth_star