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Isabel's Final Surge: Financial and Emotional

Recovery centers now closed, but assistance is still available.

Five weeks ago tonight, an unwelcome visitor came to call by the name of Isabel. When she left, there was devastation, heartache, frustration, anger and pain, both physical and mental. There was also help and guidance.

The latter came from those whom many may take for granted, particularly since 9/11, the communities' first responders, as well as local officials and elected leaders. And this time there was a new helping hand. It was extended by agents from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA).

They not only toured the flood-ravaged areas of Old Town Alexandria, Belle View and New Alexandria, they set up shop to help both businesses and homeowners in their time of need.

First they operated out of the Nannie Lee Recreation Center in Alexandria and then the South County Government Center in the Mount Vernon/Lee districts.

Their work on a one-on-one basis is complete, and the contact centers are now closed. But there is still time to apply for assistance, according to Douglas Welty, FEMA public affairs. "The deadline for individuals and businesses to register for assistance is Nov. 17," Welty said.

"Those who suffered losses or damages as a result of Hurricane Isabel and who live and have businesses in the areas declared disaster areas by President Bush under the Sept. 18, 2003, declaration have one month left to apply for disaster assistance," Welty said.

"The registration deadline is quickly approaching, and we want to encourage those who need disaster aid to apply now," said State Coordinating Officer Michael Cline. "Help is only a telephone call away."

THOSE WHO STILL need to apply for assistance may register by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for the speech- or hearing-impaired. The lines are open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. seven days a week. The Helpline continues to be available for those who may need information on their application.

"We encourage those who need disaster help to register immediately," said David Fukutomi, federal coordinating officer. "As the registration deadline approaches, we want to be sure we have reached everyone who needs help and that no one is left out."

Isabel was one of the costliest natural disasters to strike Virginia in recent memory. In the 21 days following her arrival, the number of Virginia registrations and disaster assistance delivered far exceeded Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

By contrast, the statistics look like this:

*Floyd: Nine cities and counties declared disaster areas,

*Isabel: 99 cities and counties declared disaster areas;

*Floyd: 4,778 applicants registered for aid,

*Isabel: 66,310 applicants registered for aid;

*Floyd: $1,908,371.43 approved for individual and household assistance,

*Isabel: $18,082,771.81 approved for individual and household assistance.

ISABEL'S AFTERMATH called for nine times the money and 14 times the registrations seeking disaster relief, according to FEMA calculations.

Overall disaster assistance from Isabel at the present time totals more than $69.4 million, FEMA calculates.

Other statistics include the following:

*More than $31.2 million has been approved thus far to help families, more than $21.8 million for housing needs and nearly $9.6 million for other disaster-related needs not covered by insurance;

*$9.5 million for debris removal and emergency protective measures. This does not include future assistance with restoring public buildings, equipment, roads, bridges, water facilities and other utilities;

*More than $24 million has been approved to support life-sustaining missions. More than 6 million pounds of ice and more than 1 million gallons of water were delivered to staging areas during recovery;

*Statewide more than 12,200 people visited the various Disaster Recovery Centers such as Lee Center and the South County Government Center to receive information and aid;

*More than 74,600 individuals have registered for disaster assistance from FEMA;

*SBA has issued more than 50,400 applications and approved more than $4.7 million in low-interest loans to homeowners and businesses.

NOT ALL THE damage was physical. There was also the impact on employment and human psyche. Those whose livelihood was adversely impacted may be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) through the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). Information is available at the nearest VEC office. Filing deadline is Oct. 24.

Those suffering emotional and psychological after-effects can get information on the nearest crisis counseling center by calling 1-866-400-2951. Those who are speech- or hearing-impaired should call 711, the Virginia Relay number. Lines for both are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As a result of losses from Isabel, there will be more demand for flood insurance. Gloria Prince, FEMA's national flood insurance specialist, visited the area last week to discuss the details of such insurance.

"All disaster assistance is geared to bringing people back into business. The only way to come close to total monetary assistance is through flood insurance," she explained.

According to Prince, there is a variety of variables to be considered when purchasing flood insurance.

"FEMA does not dictate amounts necessary on a given property, private or commercial. What FEMA does dictate is the way a given property is rated. The rest is up to the occupant, their mortgage holder and their insurance company," she said.