A half-dozen of the 20 or so government staffers manning the new regional Disaster Recovery Assistance Center in Lake Luzerne sat idle for hours Saturday as not one person visited the center to seek help from the destruction of Tropical Storm Irene. The assistance center, located in the Lake Luzerne Town Hall on Rte. 9N, is to remain open and fully staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days per week into October. A wide variety of help is available from the agencies, not only with grants and low-income loans for rebuilding homes and businesses, but for temporary assistance with living expenses — and help in expediting replacement of vital legal documents.
More than 20 experts in disaster assistance, representing well over a dozen federal and state agencies, are now on duty at the new Disaster Recovery Center to aid local individuals and businesses, in Warren County and surrounding areas, recover from Tropical Storm Irene.
Seven days per week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
But on Saturday Aug. 17, the second day the center was open, these disaster aid workers were staring at the walls and chatting with each other.
Not one person had yet showed up at the center to request help.
Despite the lack of public turnout, Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Peter Lembessis said that he expects some traffic soon at the disaster aid center.
“Maybe they don’t really know we’re all here yet,” he said, noting that the center will be open probably into October. “People may not yet know the extent of their losses.”
Looking at the various agency personnel read books or gaze into space, Lembessis said he was pleased with the extensive outreach the state was offering, as well as his federal colleagues.
“I’m very impressed with the state,” he said, “The range of services they’ve assigned to staff this center is outstanding.”
Not only is FEMA offering grants of to up to $30,000 for individuals to reimburse damages to their primary homes, but they are offering additional sums up to $200,000 in low-interest loans for rebuilding.
Also, the state is offering weatherization grants to moderate-income families whose homes have suffered damage from hurricanes Irene and Lee. Qualifying families of modest income displaced by these storms are also eligible for low-income housing.
The federal Small Business Administration, agency representatives explained, is offering low-interest loans to enable homeowners to rebuild after suffering structure, real estate and personal property losses. Renters that were flooded out can receive these loans to reimburse their personal property losses.
Also, commercial property owners can receive loans up to $2 million to recover and rebuild, they said.
The Red Cross was also manning a table at the Luzerne Disaster Recovery Center. They were ready to offer food, clothing, shelter and other temporary assistance.
Ed Bartos of the state Department of Health was on hand to offer advice on the dangers of mold, spilled fuel, and health hazards routinely related to flooding. He was ready to help people decide if their homes were indeed habitable.
The Department of Labor was on hand to speed up unemployment claims based on job losses due to the storms.
Representatives from the state Department of Motor Vehicles were ready to help people obtain substitute drivers’ licenses, vehicle registrations and car titles that might have washed away. They also were prepared, with a remote computer terminal, to take in license plates from vehicles that were submerged and now are junk.
The state Office of Temporary & Disability Assistance was on hand to help people apply for food stamps that were lost in the flood, or replace benefit verification letters.
The Warren County Social Services Department personnel were also on hand to help people with food stamps, temporary assistance, or to assist with their medical home care needs.
“We’ll be here seven days a week to help whomever we can,” said Colleen Mosher.
Dozens of area homeowners and business owners suffered millions of dollars worth of damage due to Tropical Storm Irene, which roared through the eastern Adirondacks Aug. 28, dumping up to eight inches of rain that swelled dozens of creeks that became raging rivers, ripping out bridges and highways, pushing houses off their foundations, flooding homes and businesses. High winds of the storm felled trees that sliced through homes, crushed vehicles and sank boats.
Looking at idle workers Saturday in the disaster outreach center, Lembessis said he hopes citizens with storm losses eventually show up.
“People up here just grab a hammer and fix things up — they may think it’s too much of a hassle to file for aid, but all it takes is a visit and a phone call,” he said.
Lembessis urged all with storm losses to call FEMA first at (800) 621-3362 to register and get a case number before they come to the center in person.
Then, they can get expert help, he said.
“We want people’s houses to be safe, sanitary and livable,” he said. “This is what we’re providing.”