Three months after February’s record breaking floods, Michiana is still cleaning up the mess left behind. Disaster centers in the region are working to help residents with recovery efforts.
The FEMA disaster recovery centers in Elkhart and South Bend have only been open for about a month. So far $2.3 million dollars in aid has been handed out to nearly 1,900 registrants.
Karen Knapik is with the U.S. Small Business Administration. SBA offers low-interest loans to help people replace things that FEMA and insurance won’t cover.
“Where FEMA will help keep you safe, secure and sanitary, they’ll help you with short-term recovery, short-term events, short-term repair, we’re going to help you with the longer term.”
So far SBA has approved more than a million dollars in loans. That’s a lifesaver for people like Mark and Rose Walker.
“To help us get the stuff we lost during the flood back up and running," Mark Walker said. "You know, for personal things within the house that we lost, so we closed on a loan and everything’s great!”
The Walkers had five feet of water and sewage in their basement on Princeton Boulevard in Elkhart. They started clean up right away.
“We dealt with the mold, we had the mold and we got busy on that," Rose Walker remembers. "Went through six things of bleach, it was discouraging. The neighbors came together, we have a good neighborhood, we fed each other and helped each other, a lot of praying going on. In times of need you reach out and that’s where your strength comes from, you know?”
They said their neighbors told them not to bother applying, that it would be too much hassle and they wouldn’t get any help. But now, armed with their loan they feel like they can bring the hope of that help back to their neighborhood.
“In our community people don’t think help is there," Mark Walker said. "So they’ll get discouraged. Or [they think] it takes a lot to get assistance and a lot of people are not willing to put in the effort and they’ll spread that message of, it’s not gonna happen. So what we bring is hope to our neighborhood.”
William Lindsay with FEMA said even if they or SBA can’t help, they can connect people with other organizations, like the Red Cross, United Way and the Salvation Army that could.
“Anyone that sustained any type of damage, [and] is of course a U.S. citizen. But we also have volunteer groups that work with the whole community. So if you need any help, any support whatsoever, let us know.”
Lindsay said those who have registered for relief and haven’t heard back yet, should be patient and contact them again. There are workers at the center who can talk through where cases and applications are in the process.
Lindsay and Knapik said one thing flood victims should be wary of is recovery fraud. Lindsay said all contractractor and repair workers should be checked out locally and paid in installments.
“That’s a big problem throughout the country with a lot of contractors who come in and maybe they’re not on the up and up. So we ask that you check with your chamber of commerce, your better business bureau, check with your neighbors before you hire anyone to do any type of repairs to your home.”
Lindsay said survivors should also be wary of anyone claiming to be with the federal government. FEMA, SBA and other organizations will all have credentials and none will ask for money to apply for assistance.
Residents have until July 5th to register for disaster relief. There are centers at the Elkhart County Health Department and at the Leighton Center in South Bend.