FEMA Disaster Recovery Center for flood victims in late August 2023 flood now open in Belle

BELLE, W.Va. — Eastern Kanawha County residents and those beyond affected by the late August 2023 flash flood can now stop by the newly-established state-federal Disaster Recovery Center in Belle to get assistance with damages from the aftermath.

The center is now located at Belle Town Hall, 1100 E. Dupont Avenue. It’s open daily Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

There flood victims can meet with disaster recovery experts from FEMA and pick up disaster assistance applications, upload documents, and get questions answered about the federal disaster assistance.

DRC Manager for Belle Town Recovery Center, Barbara Blake, encourages flood victims to come by the center throughout the next 60 days they will be set up there to fill out the application to get reimbursed from the damages received in that flood, which occurred from August 28 to Aug. 30 2023.

“We’re here to help the survivors, of course, you know FEMA helps survivors before, during, and after a disaster, so we’re here, hoping everyone will come in, we’re here to help and assist in anyway possible that we can,” said Blake.

One of the three DRC Group Supervisors at the center, Rhonda Meggitt said five months after the flood, FEMA was finally able to obtain a federal disaster declaration on Jan. 31.

She said they plan to open up more disaster recovery centers throughout or near the areas worst hit by the flood, which caused extensive damage to more than 30 homes in neighborhoods in Eastern Kanawha County alone, another 54 with minor damage, and three homes being a total loss. That was from a damage assessment conducted by West Virginia VOAD in the county back in October, which also reported that 22 private bridges were destroyed, as well.

Four other counties were also hit by the flood, including Boone, Clay, Calhoun, and Harrison. Meggitt said they just opened their first recovery center in Harrison County on Wednesday.

“We’re going to be having more pop up in Kanawha County, maybe one more in Kanawha and we’re going to have mobiles in the near future in Boone, Calhoun, and Clay counties,” said Meggitt.

However, she said residents from any of the counties can go to any recovery center location.

Meggitt said they also have disaster recovery experts on the ground going door-to-door to homes to assist people with the applications and give referrals for assistance. She said they can assist and provide reimbursements for any type of damage related to the flood, even if it’s just their water heater or left over debris they still need cleaned up, but people must fill out an application first.

Also on hand at the center with FEMA are representatives with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) that offer low-interest, long-term loans to further help with damage costs if one has exhausted their insurance benefits and discovered that the financial assistance received through FEMA was insufficient in covering all of those costs.

SBA Public Information Officer Donika Farnham said they want to further be of assistance as people continue to pull out of the disaster.

“The local economy and the local community do depend on coming back to a state of normalcy, and the only way to do that is to rebuild your home, rebuild your business, get back on our feet, and get back to life as normal, and that’s certainly what we’re here to help with,” said Farnham.

Farnham said people have up to 30 years to re-pay the loans and they provide up to $25,000.

Blake said it’s all of their mission at the center to meet people where they are following a disaster such as the Aug. 2023 flood, and make their assistance as accessible as possible.

“We go wherever the people need us and need our help, that’s what we are, so we help people to fix whatever damages they have, we’re here for them,” said Blake. “So, we’re always excited to go in and try to help survivors, because they’re the ones who have suffered losses, and that’s what we’re here to do.”

According to FEMA, the first step in the home inspection process FEMA inspectors will conduct in victim’s homes so they can receive the damage reimbursements will start with a phone call or a text message from an inspector to schedule an appointment for that inspection. Applicants can expect the phone number to be from an out-of-state number and up to three attempts at contacting them over the course of three days.

If inspectors cannot reach the applicant after three attempts, their case will be closed until they reach back out to FEMA.

Once the appointment is scheduled, a FEMA inspector will arrive at the applicant’s home wearing an official ID badge and will ask to confirm the applicant’s photo ID.

If the applicant was able to take pictures of interior or exterior damage to their home, it would be helpful to show those pictures to the inspector.

The inspection process typically takes 30 to 40 minutes. FEMA never charges for an inspection.

Meggitt said don’t let the official nature of the inspection process deter you from thinking that this is just another job to the FEMA inspector, she said they truly care about each and every victim they meet and want to help the best they can.

“And not just being an employee, I think we would all do this without just being an employee, you know, it’s in our DNA, so we’re very happy to be able to be here to help and do anything that we can,” said Meggitt.

People can also fill out an application online at DisasterAssistance.gov, or by calling the FEMA Helpline at 1-800-621-3362.