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Friday, June 21, 2024
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Help for Hurricane Victims

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Under the flag of the United Cajun Navy, more than 50 volunteers showed up on Saturday to help clean up after the hurricane. Due to the storm surge from Idalia, there was plenty to do. There were houses that needed to be gutted to remove water damage. Appliances that had to be pulled out and placed by the street. There were trees that needed to be cut up that had fallen in the storm. Airboats were harnessed to pull docks off the flats.

Most of the work was cleaning out the flooding damage. Hernando Beach and the surrounding area saw several feet of storm surge. Drywall will wick up water, so even a few inches of water may entail replacing several feet of drywall throughout the house.

Erin Daly, Cheryl Harrison, Maryann Johnson, Kim Heath, Kelly Reeve (Coast Guard Marine Group), and the team played matchmaker, connecting volunteers and people in need. They had a list of needs, and as volunteers showed up, they matched them with needs. They also passed out supplies. There was food supplied for volunteers, including chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A and pizzas from Pizza Hut, as well as chips. There was water and Gatorade to keep everyone hydrated.

In addition to volunteers, there were supplies for clean up. There are cleaning supplies, garbage bags, and clean-up kits from the Red Cross. The Red Cross dropped off a truckload of supplies on Sunday. They initially approached the United Way with the supplies. The United Way contacted Erin, and she redirected the supplies to the Coast Guard Auxiliary. The Red Cross asked if there was anyone there to unload them. Erin replied that there were people there to help them unload the truck, even though at the time it was just her and a couple of volunteers. By the time the truck arrived, many more volunteers had arrived and quickly unloaded the truck.

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A wellness check turned into a rescue during the recovery

On Saturday, a resident of Hernando Beach returned from hospice to check on her home after the storm. A wellness check was requested since she was frail. When a volunteer arrived, she was clearing out her home and had completely overexerted herself. The volunteer took her to the Coast Guard Auxiliary, where there was air conditioning, and had her checked out by the Fire Department. A volunteer drove her back to hospice, while a second volunteer followed in her car.

House Fire During Flooding in Hernando Beach

Video footage from the home adjacent to the one that burned down shows that there was a street light on outside the home when the fire started. This would indicate that the electricity was still on in the flooded area. A while later, the street light is no longer lit, indicating that power had been cut.

The flooding meant that the fire department could not reach the house to fight the fire. The house burned until the fire put itself out. The house was a total loss.

The owner of the burned house is longtime Springstead Athletic Director and Hall of Fame Wrestling coach Bob Levija. His career at Springstead spanned more than 30 years, and he touched many lives in the area. There is a community fundraiser set up by his daughter at https://givesendgo.com/GB2KE, which has raised almost $8,000 so far.

In addition to the house in Hernando Beach, a couple of houses in Hudson burned as well. The cause of these fires is currently believed to have been the result of flooding reaching electrical sockets.

Cutting off the power

Cutting off the power is a difficult decision since a prolonged power outage will cause the loss of food in refrigerators and freezers. Cutting off the power when there is no flooding will result in many angry residents. Additionally, when the power is cut and restored, this can lead to surges that cause appliances to short out. This is one of the reasons that it is recommended to turn off your main breaker when you evacuate.

The Hernando Sun reached out to Hernando County and Withlacoochee River Electric regarding who makes the decision to shut down power to an area. Nick Brandt, Community Risk Reduction Manager and Public Information Officer for Hernando County Fire Rescue, replied that “During a storm where an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is activated to a Level 1 (all essential support functions are activated), representatives from the power companies are expected to be in the EOC. When they are present, as soon as Emergency Management and the EOC is aware of flooding they would have the same information. Flood conditions are communicated to our partners to ensure public safety is top priority regardless of whether an EOC is activated or not. In this storm’s case, the power company was present in the EOC and was aware of the flood conditions.”

Over the past week, several federal, state, and local agencies have announced assistance in hurricane recovery. Various recovery efforts are described below.

More Cleanup Assistance

Crisis Clean Up, vetted through Volunteer Florida, can assist with cutting fallen trees, drywall, flooring, and appliance removal, tarping roofs, and mold mitigation. Crisis Clean Up have opened a toll-free hotline for the public to request cleanup assistance: 800-451-1954. For more information visit www.volunteerflorida.org.

FEMA Funds

Hernando County has met the threshold for FEMA Individual Assistance (IA). Local, State, and Federal damage assessment teams worked diligently into Friday evening and submitted their assessments to the State of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management. Hernando County’s Emergency Management officials were notified Saturday morning, shortly after 8 a.m., that Hernando County was added to the original seven declared counties. Hernando County was also approved for FEMA Public Assistance (PA) for categories A and B, debris management and emergency protective measures respectively.

Hernando County residents who were affected by Hurricane Idalia may apply for federal assistance and check their application status by visiting www.DisasterAssistance.gov, or you may also download the FEMA mobile app through both Google Play and the App Store. You may also apply for Federal IA disaster assistance by calling the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362. If you use a video relay service, captioned telephone service, or other communication services, please provide FEMA with the specific number assigned for that service.

FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) Teams began visiting the affected residential areas Sunday afternoon to help homeowners register for FEMA IA assistance. FEMA DSA Team members will be clearly identified by a blue FEMA vest or FEMA shirt with a FEMA photo identification badge. DSA Team members will have a presence within Hernando County for the foreseeable future as we continue our recovery process.

Florida Delegation requests that FEMA funds not be tied to Ukraine

Florida Congressman Daniel Webster, R-Clermont, along with Congresswoman Kat Cammack (R-FL), and members in the Florida delegation last week urged House and Senate leadership to support a clean supplemental appropriations bill to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) and to help those affected by recent natural disasters, including Hurricane Idalia.

With recent natural disasters across the United States, remaining FEMA funds will not be enough to support recovery efforts for Hurricane Idalia, the wildfires in Hawaii, and others.

The Members’ letter asks funding for these natural disasters not be tied to additional funding for Ukraine or other supplemental requests to ensure assistance is swift and sufficient for Americans affected by these incidents.

Co-signers of the letter include Representatives Neal Dunn (R-FL), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Laurel Lee (R-FL), Brain Mast (R-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), Byron Donalds (R-FL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Mike Waltz (R-FL), Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), Cory Mills (R-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Maria Salazar (R-FL), and Aaron Bean (R-FL).

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Business Loans

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced that physical disaster loans
are available in seven additional counties. SBA’s low-interest disaster loans are available to Florida businesses and residents due to Hurricane Idalia, that began on August 27.

The disaster declaration covers Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Pasco, Pinellas, Suwannee, and Taylor County in Florida which are eligible for both Physical and Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the SBA. Small businesses and most private nonprofit organizations in the following adjacent counties are eligible to apply only for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs): Alachua, Baker, Hillsborough, Leon, Marion, Polk, Sumter, Union, and Wakulla in Florida; and Brooks, Clinch, Echols, Lowndes, and Thomas in Georgia.
Businesses and private nonprofit organizations of any size may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster-damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory, and other business assets.

For small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations, the SBA offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster. Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance is available regardless of whether the business suffered any physical property damage.

Interest rates are as low as 4% for businesses, and 2.375% for nonprofit organizations, and 2.5% for homeowners and renters, with terms up to 30 years. The SBA sets loan amounts and terms based on each applicant’s financial condition. Interest does not begin to accrue until 12 months from the date of the initial disaster loan disbursement. SBA disaster loan repayment begins 12 months from the date of the initial disbursement.

Applicants may be eligible for a loan amount increase of up to 20 percent of their physical damages, as verified by the SBA, for mitigation purposes. Eligible mitigation improvements may include a safe room or storm shelter, sump pump, elevation, retaining walls, and landscaping to help protect property and occupants from future disasters.

Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA’s secure website at https://disasterloanassistance.sba.gov/ela/s/ and should apply under SBA declaration # 18118.

Report Unlicensed Contracting

Report Unlicensed Contracting to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).

Unlicensed contracting becomes a felony during a state of emergency. The state of Florida and Hernando County are currently under a state of emergency as a direct result of Hurricane Idalia. Hernando County Emergency Management and DBPR wants to remind you:
• Contact your insurance company first to verify that your insurance will cover the repairs before you find a licensed contractor or sign a contract.
• Always verify a professional’s license online at MyFloridaLicense.com, by calling (850) 487-1395, or by using the DBPR mobile app.
• Be wary of individuals who only produce an “occupational license,” or corporate filing. An “occupational license” only means that person has paid a tax receipt to the local municipality.
• Get a written estimate from several licensed contractors to compare costs before you hire one. Make sure the estimates include the work the contractor will do, materials involved, completion date, and total cost.
• NEVER pay cash in full before the work is completed. Be cautious of writing checks made payable to individuals, especially when dealing with a company.
• Report unlicensed contracting by calling the DBPR Unlicensed Activity Hotline: (866) 532-1440.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance

FloridaCommerce announced that Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) is available to Florida businesses and residents whose employment or self-employment was lost or interrupted as a direct result of Hurricane Idalia and are not eligible for regular state or Federal Reemployment Assistance benefits. Eligible Floridians whose employment or self-employment was lost or interrupted as a direct result of Hurricane Idalia are encouraged to submit a claim at www.FloridaJobs.org.

Additionally, work search reporting, waiting week, and Employ Florida registration requirements for Reemployment Assistance claims have been temporarily waived for Floridians impacted by Hurricane Idalia in FEMA disaster-declared counties. By waiving these requirements, eligible Floridians will be able to quickly apply and receive reemployment assistance and disaster unemployment assistance benefits.

FloridaCommerce is accepting applications for DUA from residents and businesses in Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Pasco, Suwannee, and Taylor counties, the FEMA-designated disaster impacted area as of September 3, 2023.

DUA is available to those who are ineligible to receive federal or state Reemployment Assistance benefits and the individual meets one of the following requirements:
• Worked or were self-employed or were scheduled to begin work or self-employment;
• Are not able to work or perform services because of physical damage or destruction to the place of employment as a direct result of the disaster;
• Can establish that the work or self-employment they can no longer perform was their principal source of income;
• Do not qualify for regular unemployment benefits from any state;
• Cannot perform work or self-employment because of an injury as a direct result of the disaster; or
• Became the breadwinner or major supporter of a household because of the death of the head of household.

DUA is available for weeks of unemployment beginning September 3, 2023 until March 2, 2024, as long as the individual’s unemployment continues to be a result of the disaster in a designated-disaster areas. The deadline to submit a claim for DUA benefits is no later than 11:59 p.m. on October 2, 2023.

Applications filed after the deadline will be considered untimely, and DUA benefits may be denied unless the individual provides good cause. Applicants must submit their Social Security number, check stubs, and documentation to support the claim that they were working or self-employed when the disaster occurred. In some cases, additional documentation may be required. To receive DUA benefits, all required documentation must be submitted within 21 days from the date the DUA application is filed.

To file a DUA claim, visit www.FloridaJobs.org or call 1-800-385-3920. Customer service representatives are available Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time, to assist claimants. For DUA claims information, call 1-833-FL-APPLY (1-833-352-7759) to speak to a customer service representative.

Rocco Maglio
Rocco Magliohttps://www.roccomaglio.com
Rocco Maglio is a co-founder of the Hernando Sun. He grew up in Brooksville and graduated from Hernando High. He then worked in technology for starting in the early 1990s. He was fascinated by the potential of the Internet even though at the time there were not graphical browsers. He recently earned a Master of Science in Information Technology with a specialization in Cybersecurity.
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