FEMA, county reach out to storm victims

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Dabbing seashells and other soggy collectibles with a square of terry cloth, Janette Lyon took time away from storm cleanup yesterday to chat with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Anne Arundel County as they toured damaged homes on the Patapsco River.

Mary Ann Carlisle and John Kurpjuweit -- she works for FEMA, he for the county -- took a quick tour of Bayside Beach in Pasadena in an effort to reach out to Tropical Storm Isabel victims who may be unable to get to the FEMA center in Annapolis.

The storm caused about $500 million in damage countywide, according to initial FEMA estimates. Some residents have been so overwhelmed with storm mop-up that they haven't had time to make the trip to the disaster relief center. Others may be waiting to assess their total damage before submitting an application. But according to federal officials, it's best to get started as soon as possible.

"Please let us help you," Carlisle, a community relations worker for FEMA, told a weary Lyon. Carlisle, who has visited at least six Anne Arundel County neighborhoods in recent days, encouraged Lyon to complete the application quickly, adding that she could update it if her damage estimate grew.

"And remember to give us a phone number," Carlisle said. "If we can't find you, we can't help you."

For Lyon, the visit from Carlisle and Kurpjuweit was welcome, although not especially helpful. By the time the federal and county team visited, Lyon had already called FEMA and the Small Business Administration in search of storm aid.

"She didn't give me any new information, but I appreciate it that she showed up," said Lyon, 57, a food safety specialist with the Food and Drug Administration in College Park. "Now I just have to wait for a FEMA inspector to show up."

Lyon's home was among about 1,800 throughout the county damaged by the storm, many of them left uninhabitable. As of yesterday, about 1,000 customers remained without electricity, and seven roads remained closed because of damage or debris, county officials said.

Carlisle said that, like Lyon, most county residents affected by the storm have started the application process with FEMA to receive aid. She said that "the system seems to be flowing very smoothly."

She and Kurpjuweit are part of the county's effort to connect with residents who have suffered as a result of Isabel, said Jody Hedeman Couser, a spokeswoman for County Executive Janet S. Owens. She said staff members from the departments of Aging and Inspections and Permits have traveled into neighborhoods to help homeowners.

"It's on a case-by-case basis," Hedeman Couser said.

FEMA spokesman Mike Sweet said that workers such as Carlisle are reaching out to disaster victims and educating them about the federal aid application process.

"Our goal is to reach all the people affected by the disaster that we can," he said. "There may be pockets out there that don't know yet that there is federal aid available."

Kurpjuweit helped Carlisle navigate neighborhoods that, as a community and constituent service specialist for Owens, he knows well. Kurpjuweit also took pictures of damaged houses along the way.

At Bayside Beach yesterday, Department of Public Works employees drove their trucks along neighborhood streets in search of residents who needed help hefting water-soaked couches or rugs to the curb.

County workers have been working side by side with residents since Saturday. Said Stacy Moore, a supervisor with the Department of Public Works: "We're going to stay here until we get it all done."

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