Along the bay, victims await FEMA's help

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Rosanne and Joseph Walters just want a place to live.

Yesterday afternoon, as they walked out of the Back River Community Center carrying a stack of papers they received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other state and local agencies, they were angry and frustrated.

"We got no immediate assistance like Governor [Robert L.] Ehrlich has been promising on the radio," Joseph Walters said. "The only thing we got was $100 worth of vouchers for Wal-Mart to buy clothes for our family. We have no place to live and no money to live."

The Walters, whose home in Bowleys Quarters was heavily damaged by Chesapeake Bay floodwaters from Tropical Storm Isabel, thought FEMA would help them find a place to live right away.

Getting assistance

Other area residents will learn today what FEMA and other government agencies can and can't do, when officials meet with residents at the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department at 2 p.m. and at Sparrows Point High School at 7:30 p.m.

What FEMA will do is this: inspect damaged houses, determine grants for repairs not covered by insurance, and provide money for temporary housing and disaster-related medical, dental and transportation expenses.

FEMA will not provide money immediately at disaster recovery centers or reimburse people for all of their losses.

Homeowners, renters and businesses are eligible for FEMA's help. They must apply and qualify for specific programs before any money can be allocated. Checks are sent by mail.

Residents whose homes were damaged must first call 1-800- 621-3362 to register with FEMA.

FEMA officials stress that the assistance they provide is not a long-term solution.

FEMA provides small grants - averaging about $2,500 each - for home repairs not covered by private insurance and for such expenses as temporary housing, medical and dental costs, transportation and other disaster-related needs.

Low-interest long-term loans are available from the federal Small Business Administration for homeowners, renters and businesses.

A renter can apply for up to $40,000, a homeowner for up to $200,000 and businesses up to $1.5 million. The interest rate as of Saturday was 2.8 percent for individuals and 2.9 percent for businesses.

FEMA has set up three Disaster Recovery Centers in the Baltimore area, one at the Back River Community Center in Middle River, one in Annapolis and one in Fells Point to offer assistance,

The Walterses, however, still don't know the extent of the damage to their house - a frustration shared by many of their neighbors - because their insurance adjuster hasn't shown up yet.

They can't get back into their small house on Galloway Creek - its contents were lost in the flood - because they were told to wait for the adjuster to tell them whether the house is habitable.

So the Walters and their two teen-age sons have been staying temporarily with relatives in a cramped house with four other people.

"The officials tell me they can't do anything to help us," Joseph Walters said. "They told us to go to a hotel and pay for it up front. We might be reimbursed. We just don't know."

They feel like they are going in circles.

Mary Prietz of the 3500 block of Bay Drive doesn't expect to get much help from FEMA for repairs to her mother's house, which she had just finished renovating. But she's planning to go to today's meeting at the fire hall anyway.

"She just bought the house a year ago, and we renovated the whole thing," Prietz said. "There's probably $300,000 worth of damage. We had solid cherry cabinets installed on the first floor and solid oak staircases were just delivered. We salvaged what we could."

Prietz said her mother has flood insurance, but she's sure that the one-story cottage and an outbuilding on the property aren't covered by the policy. The storm surge also washed away the pier and the first-floor deck. Prietz is still picking up parts of the deck from neighbor's yards.

Prietz and her mother are staying in the house while extensive renovations necessitated by the flood are being completed. They hope to get the house back in order by New Year's.

A day to remember

Farther down Bay Drive, Dorothy Hoffman was trying to salvage personal items from her flooded first floor while her husband, Henry, was showing a FEMA inspector the damage to the back and side of the two-story house.

Hoffman said she expected FEMA to help, but she didn't know what the agency would do. She and her husband hadn't applied for assistance.

"When the water washed in on the first floor, it sucked everything out with it, including our wedding album that was on the coffee table," said Hoffman, who celebrated her 44th anniversary on the day Isabel chased them from their home. "Neighbors found a couple of the pictures and returned them to me."

The Hoffmans have been living in the house since it was built in 1979, replacing a home on the lot that they had owned since 1956.

She said they plan to stay in Bowleys Quarters and rebuild. Right now, they are living with their daughter.

But other residents along Bay Drive weren't so lucky. At least five houses have already been condemned, and contractors were inspecting them yesterday, getting ready to tear them down.

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