Since the series of storms slammed into Northern California, Marilyn Smith has dealt with water damage, mold in her home, a respiratory infection from the mold and complex insurance procedures.
Smith, 67, visited a disaster recovery center in Galt for help on Wednesday and said Federal Emergency Management Agency staff gave advice on how to work with insurance.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the California Office of Emergency Services and Sacramento County operated a disaster recovery center in Galt, Calif., on Jan. 25, 2023.Kristin Lam / CapRadio
“I’m just a senior citizen trying to live in my own home,” Smith said. “And I’m more afraid of being homeless than I am of mold.”
Anyone affected by the storms can go to the disaster recovery center at the Chabolla Community Center in Galt, which emergency officials say is meant to be a one-stop shop for services. People can get help with issues varying from replacing documents damaged in floods to applying for lost wages and business grants.
FEMA, the California Office of Emergency Services and Sacramento County are running the center through Wednesday, Feb. 1. In the first week after the center opened Jan. 18, more than 200 people visited, Sacramento County spokesperson Brenda Bongiorno said in an email.
President Joe Biden issued a federal major disaster declaration earlier this month, which green-lit government assistance programs in areas including Sacramento and San Joaquin counties. Common issues discussed at the Galt center include house flooding and fallen trees and fences, Bongiorno said.
The public can apply for many disaster recovery services online, but FEMA spokesperson Patrick Boland said it can be helpful to talk to service providers in-person at the center.
“People have come in here and said ‘I've lost everything,’” Boland said. “You really need somebody to talk to. We can refer people to mental health counseling in here.”
Smith, who has lived in her Tracy home for 14 years, said issues from the storms blur together. She got sick after one of the storms. Because she works nights in the home care field, she usually goes to sleep in the morning when it’s sunny.
But one day Smith found a turtle floating in a pool of water in her backyard, realized her backyard was flooded and spotted water damage on her house. At some point, she noticed water squirted out when she stepped on her wood laminate floor. And she also discovered a line of mold.
Smith said FEMA gave her advice for dealing with insurance in the aftermath, helping her understand how claims work.
“I'm not a flood expert,” Smith said. “I'm just calling because I need to report that I have personal damage and property damage and go from there.”
At the center, people might be ineligible for federal assistance but qualify for state programs, said CalOES spokesperson Diana Crofts-Pelayo. Anyone can go to a disaster recovery center no matter their immigration or documentation status, she added.
“Regardless of your situation or background, we want people to take advantage of these resources that are available to them and get all the help that they can get post these winter storms,” Crofts-Pelayo said.
When coming to a recovery center, Crofts-Pelayo suggested people bring their home address, business documentation (if they own a business) and a form of identification to help fill out forms. Boland also suggested having documentation or photos of storm damage ready to describe it to staff at the center. That way FEMA can find out what people need and what services are available for them.
Rahnae Cejudo with Minority Business Assistance and Recovery Kickstart also went to the center on Wednesday. She visited to gather storm assistance information to share with small business operators in Sacramento County.
Many businesses are repairing roof leaks and damage from fallen trees, including broken windows, Cejudo said. Tax relief and other programs can help with storm recovery, especially considering how the pandemic has already taken a toll on businesses the past few years, she added.
Cejudo recommended anyone negatively affected by the storms visit the Galt center to see what programs are available.
FEMA and CalOES are looking into opening another disaster recovery center in Sacramento County, Boland and Crofts-Pelayo said. The Galt center, located in the southern part near the San Joaquin County border, is currently the only one in the area.
The disaster recovery center in Galt is located at the Chabolla Community Center on 600 Chabolla Ave. It is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. though Feb. 1.
CalOES also has a 2023 winter storms recovery resource online and a general website listing disaster recovery resources.
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