Fed agencies on the ground in Panola; all homeowners, businesses with damage urged to visit reps

Published 8:42 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2023

They are here, and they are ready to help

That’s the message Emergency Operations Director Daniel Cole has for Panola County. 

He updated the Board of Supervisors at its Monday meeting about the state and federal storm assistance, stressing that county residents have a golden opportunity to speak directly with on-the-ground representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the Mississippi Emergency Management Administration, and the Small Business Administration.

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“You don’t have to call an eight hundred number, go through a website, or mail in forms unless you are a person that enjoys that kind of thing,” Cole said. “But if you want to speak directly to a representative and get your questions answered and have them assist with your paperwork on site then the Disaster Relief Center is what you are looking for.”

Cole said the inspection and review teams that have been going through the county since the day after three EF-3 tornadoes took separate and distinct paths through western and northwestern Panola have identified 281 homeowners and nine businesses affected by the winds and rain.

In the two weeks since the tornadoes Cole’s office has worked closely with the agencies, culminating in Monday’s opening of the Disaster Relief Center in the Cliff Finch Building located at 245 Eureka St.

FEMA has a large RV parked at the site with several assistance representatives, along with MEMA and the SBA, ready to talk with those affected. Cole said he was hopeful more people would  have responded to the unique opportunity earlier – just eight people had visited the site as of Tuesday morning – but was confident others would come once they learned of the DRC.

Hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“One of the best things about the DRC is that individuals and business owners can ask questions and understand their options before they spend a lot of time with paperwork and telephone calls,” Cole said.

SBA representative Florencio Marina, from Puerto Rico, told the supervisors he expects to be here at least a month and is spreading the word that SBA has a full program of assistance for individuals as well as businesses during disaster recovery events.

Marina said any homeowner with any type of damage should take full advantage of the SBA and FEMA programs currently in place in Panola County. “You may look at it and decide it’s not for you, but you may also be surprised at what options you have,” he said.

Beside the no-payback assistance that some qualify for, a variety of very low interest loans with extended terms are also available. Supervisors asked about money available for the many county residents who had little structural damage, but had large trees fall on their property.

“Some of our people have thousands of dollars in clean up and hauling from these trees down and a lot of them are elderly people on fixed incomes,” said Supervisor John Thomas. “We are hoping to find a way to get these people some help.”

Marina said all damages of any sort should be documented and discussed with representatives while the DRC is up and running, saying that assistance claims are sometimes denied, or not fully funded by one agency, reviewed by another and eventually given approval.

“It’s worth the effort for sure,” Cole said. “That’s what these programs are for. We see these disaster relief set ups on television in big areas, but it’s a great thing to see them set up in Panola County helping our people.”

FEMA may be able to help with temporary housing expenses, basic home repairs and/or other essential disaster-related needs that are not covered by insurance.

If you have homeowners, renters or flood insurance, you should file a claim as soon as possible. FEMA cannot duplicate benefits for losses covered by insurance. If your policy does not cover all your damage expenses, you may be eligible for federal assistance.

The SBA loan application holds many benefits for  residents who apply for FEMA disaster assistance. Applying with the SBA assures that all available disaster assistance options remain open to survivors.

If the SBA asks you to apply for a low-interest loan you are encouraged to do so.

If you apply for an SBA low-interest loan and are not approved, you could be eligible for additional FEMA grant assistance including replacement of essential household items.

If you are eligible for an SBA loan you do not have to accept an SBA loan.

The SBA can help renters and homeowners replace household contents (e.g., clothing, furniture and appliances) and vehicles, referred to as personal property. Homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property, and homeowners can apply for up to $200,000 to repair or replace damage to their personal residence.