Storm victims seek relief through new, temporary FEMA disaster recovery center

The new FEMA Disaster Relief Center in Albany Park was up and running yesterday, but there were few visitors. The office is new and word of it has yet to spread through Chicago neighborhoods socked and soaked by a monster rain storm in mid-September.

The folks visiting the site yesterday for relief includes Lexi Parish, 24, of Brookfield. Her basement apartment there filled like a swimming pool during the Sept. 13-14 storm.

"I lost everything," says Parish, who lives near Forest and Washington avenues. "I just moved back to my parents' house and was living in the basement of the apartment. I was there about a month."

"I didn't have insurance, anything like that," she says. "...another insurance guy told me to file a (FEMA) claim, so that's what I did. This is my last resort."

Officials from the Federal Emergency and Management Administration say they expect people from Albany Park and other areas affected by the storm will swamp the Distaster Recovery Center at 3600 W. Foster Ave., at the Northeastern Illinois University physical education building, once word of the office spreads.

Last month, more than 340 residents were affected by the flooding and many were evacuated to local shelters as gas and electricity to the area were shutoff. The area around Racine Street on the South side, near overloaded pump stations that couldn't push storm runoffout of the sewers, flooded, too.

Extended hours at the FEMA center begin today. The service will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week until further notice.

Yesterday, Aida Campuzano, 42, of Whitcomb Street in Des Plaines, was present to fill out forms for aid.

"It stopped raining and I thought, Thank God. We're not going to get flooded," she recalls. "But then my children told me, 'There's water coming through the bathroom!'"

Campuzano says she tried to mop up the water, but it was coming from under the walls, vents and doors.

"There was water all over with no place to go," she says.

Kim Anderson, public information official for FEMA, says the Disaster Recovery Center is a joint effort between federal, state and local government and the Small Business Administration (SBA). For people looking for aid, she says the first step is to register a claim with FEMA, preferably by phone or online.

The number to call is 1-800-621-FEMA, available any day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central Time. People can also register online for aid 24/7 at www.fema.gov.

Anderson says claimants should have their address, social security number and insurance information handy, as well as a phone number they can be reached at when they register. Contact information is essential to set up an appointment with an inspector to look at the property.

"If you can't register for some reason, the Disaster Recovery Center is a one-stop shop," she says. "We have FEMA staff on hand to help you register. You can talk to someone one-on-one, face-to-face about your particular case."

Those who file with FEMA will also receive a Small Business Administration form in the mail.

"It's imperative you fill out our form since it's part of the disaster assistance process," says Mary Cook, communications specialist with the SBA Office of Disaster Assistance. "There's no obligations once you do so, but if you don't, you've knocked yourself out of the opportunity for recovery."

Cook says she has three main points for those affected by the storm: "One, register with FEMA. Two, complete the SBA application. Three, any questions, come to the Disaster Recovery Center because it won't be here forever."

The SBA filing deadline to return applications for property damage is Dec. 2, 2008. Deadline for economic injury applications is July 3, 2009.

Discuss

GEOFF DOUGHERTY, 10-10-2008

Just heard from FEMA that the phone lines are now open 24 hours a day.