FEMA approves flood relief
By LPR Staff
Trucks have begun rolling, and Federal staffers and contractors are on site to help Caldwell County residents begin the grueling task of rebuilding their lives.
Following a Federal Declaration of Disaster on Saturday morning, Caldwell County has finally been approved for assistance from the Federal Emergenc
y Management Agency (FEMA) to begin the process of receiving Federal reimbursement for the millions of dollars worth of damage done to Caldwell County as flood waters ripped through the community on Memorial Day weekend.
The voluminous amount of red-tape, however, has caused some frustration for the residents who were the most impacted.
Residents of the Martindale area have taken to social media to express their distrust of the process, and their concern about how long it has taken for help to arrive.
County Judge Kenneth Schawe, however, encouraged patience among those worst affected.
“It’s a slow process to deal with the cleanup because of the enormous amount of paperwork, and we’re being very careful not to jump too quickly to get in a more serious financial disaster to the County,” he said on Monday morning, shortly before debris pickup began.
The cost of cleanup could exceed $1.75 million, according to County Emergency Management Coordinator Martin Ritchey, and if Federal guidelines are not followed to the letter, both the County as a government, and individual homeowners could be on the hook for those expenses, without the benefit of Federal assistance.
“One of the requirements under the Federal guidelines is that a very specific process has to be followed for removing debris,” he said. “That process has been going through a contracting service, because we’re required to follow standard practices, hope to have the trucks rolling Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Meanwhile, Ritchey said, the County was waiting for approval for the “public” arm of FEMA assistance, which would assist Caldwell County in rebuilding the $4.8 million in public infrastructure, including roads and bridges, that were damaged by the flood. Notification came from Congressman Lloyd Doggett’s office early on Wednesday morning that public assistance had finally been approved.
The individual assistance arm of FEMA has been working in Caldwell County since Monday. However, because of the threat of scammers attempting to capitalize on the disaster, homeowners are encouraged to be cautious about providing information.
“FEMA representatives and contractors will always wear identification badges,” said Robin Smith, a FEMA coordinator on Wednesday morning. “And we will never contact someone that has not registered with us. If you have not registered, or if you are contacted by someone that is not wearing a FEMA identification badge, you should turn them in.”
She also noted that homeowners who register for FEMA individual assistance may receive a letter that may lead them to believe they are not eligible for assistance.
“Please read all the way to the end of that letter,” she said. “Because we’re probably not saying that we can’t help you, but rather saying that we need more information.”
In most cases, she said, that information centers around homeowners insurance claims. Because FEMA cannot duplicate benefits for homeowners, they need to know about insurance claims before they can determine what assistance they can provide.
“But if people have any questions at all, they should call us,” she said.
A Mobile Disaster Relief Center opened at Martindale Baptist Church on Wednesday. In addition, two centers are open in San Marcos, and anyone who has flood damage related to the disaster, who has not yet registered with FEMA is encouraged to visit one of the centers to register.
Alternatively, property owners can register online at www.disasterassistance.gov, or by calling (800) 462-7585.
“People should also fill out the SBA loan application,” Ritchey advised, “because it is the gateway to getting grants from the organizations that might come in offering additional financial assistance.”
Elsewhere in recovery efforts, search crews, including more than 100 volunteers in Caldwell County, are combing the riverbanks, searching for the bodies of two children still missing from a home swept from its foundation in Wimberley during the flood.
William Charba, 6, and Leighton McCombs, 4, have yet to be recovered. Charba’s mother, Michelle Marie Carey-Charba, was found in Caldwell County shortly after the flooding, and crews continue to be on the lookout for the children. Everyone else missing after the flood disaster has been found.
To aid in that search, property owners have been asked to stay on the lookout for anything that could lead to the bodies of the two missing children, including strange smells, buzzards, and other clues along the riverbanks. Additionally, property owners are asked to refrain from burning debris piles on the riverbanks, until the bodies are recovered.
Volunteer efforts continue in what is expected to be a months-long cleanup and recovery effort in Caldwell County. Those who are interested in volunteering or donating are encouraged to visit the Volunteer Reception Center at Martindale Baptist Church on Highway 142, or to visit the Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management on Facebook.