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FEMA: Don't stop asking for help until all questions answered

Posted May 4, 2011

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— Responding to concerns that tornado victims were receiving form letters denying their applications for aid, state and federal officials said Wednesday that people need to get their questions answered to ensure there are no mix-ups.

WRAL News on Tuesday reported the plight of Willie Wrench, whose Dunn home was so badly damaged by the April 16 tornado that Harnett County officials condemned it.

After Wrench applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance to help him rebuild, he received a letter rejecting his claim and stating that his house sustained "minor damage" and was a safe place to live.

"What is FEMA for if they can’t help you at a time like this? I mean, they’re just wasting money having people out here signing you up, and then you don’t get nothing," he said. "It causes hard feelings, mixed feelings and everything else."

A FEMA spokeswoman acknowledged that the letter was "badly worded" but said it denied aid only for needs like medical expenses or moving or storage costs, not for any home repairs.

Glen Sachtleben of FEMA and Emily Young of the state Division of Emergency Management said Wednesday that various things could trigger an initial rejection letter, such as not filling out a loan application properly or having private insurance.

Wrench has insurance coverage, and his insurer has offered him $94,000 to raze the home and rebuild from scratch. He said he had hoped FEMA would pick up any additional rebuilding costs.

FEMA disaster recovery center sign FEMA: Don't stop asking for help until all questions answered

"It's a process. It begins with that registration," Sachtleben said.

"First, you're trying to find all the help you can. Then, you tend to shut down. So, we're hoping that people will come to the disaster assistance centers or call the 800 number," Young said.

FEMA has opened 14 field offices across eastern North Carolina to handle applications for aid in hard-hit communities. People also can call the agency toll-free at 1-800-621-3362 or can apply online.

Gov. Beverly Perdue said the positive stories of FEMA help in recent weeks far outweigh the mistakes. She and other government officials said tornado victims need to sort through the bureaucracy.

"You're always going to have one or two things that go wrong. We work with FEMA. I don't make the choices about the FEMA evaluations," Perdue said.

Although two of Wrench's neighbors also received rejection letters from FEMA, WRAL News couldn't find evidence Wednesday of similar letters being sent to storm victims.

As for Wrench, he said he's done with FEMA. Several representatives met with him at his house on Wednesday morning, but he said he didn't want to talk with them.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • patrickamallory May 5, 2011

    FEMA's job is to help coordinate and send money to local organizations--they can't do anything without state and local approval first, which is usually slower than we all would expect.

    In the meantime, we should continue to pray for those families and businesses effected and do what it takes to prepare our ourselves for the unthinkable: safetyfirstkits.com

  • Rebelyell55 May 5, 2011

    I certainly hope that some of these poster don't have a need to file a claim ever. But if you know someone who has ever needed to, talk to them. See how much was covered. You would be surprise. That's why if not for neighbors and complete stranger, most recovery is very painful. Some have a true need for help and most likely would be the first to offer if their neighbors needed help. What the article is about is another screwed up goverment agency.

  • superman May 5, 2011

    I feel sorry for the people who lost their home and belongings in the tornado. It is their responsibility to have insurance and if they dont -- it is their problem --not mine or the federal government. Where was FEMA a couple months ago when I had to get my heat pump replaced? The people in this country have gotten to the point that they expect the taxpayers and the government to look after them. They should have just let New Orleans sink into the ocean. They built below sea level and they knew the risk.

  • WHEEL May 5, 2011

    The first letter of FEMA is FEDERAL. That should give everyone a clue about how effective they are.

  • mep May 4, 2011

    FEMA has no buisness handing out taxpayer dollars to cover private property losses in a disaster. THAT is what insurance is for! If you dont have insurance, tough. FEMA needs to stick to providing food, temporary shelter, and local disaster assistance... nothing more.

  • Squirreling Dervish May 4, 2011

    So FEMA is now trying to work with him and he doesn't wish to talk to them? He should file with his private insurance FIRST and let people who actually NEED the assistance get it. I wish WRAL would QUIT giving this money grubbing whiner airtime...