Officials discuss disaster recovery efforts in Houston area

Officials discuss disaster recovery efforts in Houston area
Officials discuss disaster recovery efforts in Houston area

Judge Lina Hidalgo said Harris County is activated at Level Three of Enhanced Preparedness and will remain at that level all week as power restoration continues.

HOUSTON — Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and other county, state and federal officials gathered Saturday to provide an update on recovery efforts following the deadly and destructive storms that hit the Houston area Thursday.

Hidalgo reminded individuals that the disaster declaration signed by President Biden on Friday covers those affected by Thursday’s storms and flooding two weeks ago.

Biden ordered federal aid to aid state, tribal and local recovery efforts “in areas impacted by severe storms, straight-line winds, tornadoes and flooding beginning April 26, 2024 and continuing.”

Hidalgo said people affected by these severe weather events should apply for disaster relief or small business assistance from FEMA. The process is now streamlined so that those involved can do both at the same time.

FEMA disaster assistance is available to people living in Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, Polk, San Jacinto, Trinity and Walker counties.

CenterPoint is working to substantially complete the restorations by Wednesday. Hidalgo recommends that those who do not have power by the end of the day Wednesday call an electrician to check for potential infrastructure damage.

Rather than wait until Wednesday, the judge said you could go out and from the ground look at your weather head to see if there was any damage.

Harris County is currently activated at Enhanced Preparedness Level Three and will remain at that level all week as power restoration continues, according to Hidalgo.

Harris County government will be open Monday, but some buildings are not operational. Hidalgo said many departments are working hard to get around this problem and make notifications where necessary.

Anyone with a court date scheduled or in need of county service for Monday can click here for updates on what may be moved or temporarily delayed.

Because temperatures continue to rise, Hidalgo said law enforcement, the fire marshal and even staff from the county’s Office of Emergency Management have been checking on residents registered as medically fragile.

Judge said that overnight, county officials registered about 1,400 people, which helped them identify people who might have needed help getting to a shelter.

If you suspect someone is trying to take advantage of you or someone in need by price gouging, you can report them here. This system works with both the Texas Attorney General and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

FEMA Disaster Relief

Sandy Eslinger, FEMA’s federal coordination manager, said it’s imperative that those affected by the storms seek help.

There are different ways to sign up for help. One solution is to apply online or through the FEMA mobile app. Eslinger said the app also allows individuals to track their assistance request process.

Another way to seek help is to call 1-800-621-3362. The line is available every day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

By following the application process, you will be enrolled in the various assistance programs available.

Eslinger said that, under the direction of the county and state, FEMA will provide Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams (DSAT). These teams will travel to affected neighborhoods, going door to door and helping residents apply.

FEMA will also work with its Small Business Administration, state, and local community partners to open disaster recovery centers.

These centers will serve as a hub where people can seek help, ask questions about their own application and learn about other assistance programs.

Hidalgo reminds everyone that FEMA teams will be inspecting damaged homes. This must be done before they can provide help. A request must be received before inspectors are dispatched.

Hidalgo said that shortly after FEMA arrived in the county, they had already conducted numerous inspections and released financial aid to those in need.

Due to the extent of the damage, FEMA is unable to provide a timeline on when people will receive the funds, but they are working as quickly as they can, according to Hidalgo.

An approved FEMA inspector will wear a FEMA shirt and badge. Hidalgo wants residents to keep this in mind to avoid getting scammed.

Disaster Assistance for Small Business Administration

Homeowners, renters, businesses, and private nonprofit organizations can qualify for low-interest government loans.

Small Business Administration Representative Barbara Nitis said that for home loans, they offer up to $500,000 to repair or replace physical damage, as well as personal property. Personal property includes everything inside your home and primary car.

Renters may be eligible for the $100,000 that covers personal property.

For businesses, Nitis said it is offering up to $2 million to cover affected real estate, machinery and inventory. There is also an Economic Injury Disaster Loan for economic losses impacted by business closure.

Up to $2 million is also available to private nonprofit organizations.

The duration of these loans can be up to 30 years and there is a 12-month deferment from the date of your first disbursement.

Nitis said representatives will be available at FEMA disaster recovery centers to help people apply. The SBA will also establish business recovery centers. Applications can be submitted here.

Eligible borrowers can also extend their loan to help protect their business or home against future disasters.

Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office

Executive Deputy Chief Rodney Reed said that in recent days, fire and emergency services have responded to a dramatic increase in the number of carbon monoxide alarms in residences, with 44 between them on Saturday alone.

Reed reminds anyone with a generator to keep it at least five feet away from any entrance or open air opening to your residence. Generators should not be refueled while operating.

The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office does not encourage the use of personal generators in apartment complexes, but if you do use one, Reed said you need to consider not only your own space, but also the residents around you. He said to keep generators off patios and a safe distance from everyone.

Reed reminds everyone that burning debris poses a huge risk. Debris must be removed properly and safely.

Debris collected by residents and disposed of may take at least 30 days to be collected. You can call 311 to report debris.

Hidalgo reminded everyone that CrisisCleanup is available to anyone in need of services including mud and gut removal, debris removal, heavy object removal and tarping. Services are free, but not guaranteed. Residents can call 832-509-2977 for information.

In addition to calls related to carbon monoxide, Hidalgo said there has been an influx of calls regarding injuries from attempted repairs, electric shock and heat-related issues.

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