ELKHART – As emergency management agencies take stock of flood-affected households and properties in the county, they've noticed a few critical gaps in their data.
The heads of fire departments, social services, ministries and other groups that mobilized after the February flood got together to compare notes Friday in a meeting hosted by United Way of Elkhart County. A few residents also came to get information for themselves or on behalf of someone else who was affected.
Jennifer Tobey, director of Elkhart County Emergency Management, started by remarking that the recovery phase is expected to be a long-term prospect, comparable to the six- to eight-month period after the 2007 Nappanee tornado. But she promised victims who are still wondering where help is and if it's going to show up that she and her team are doing everything they can.
She said she recently learned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be coming. She said the agency will provide two types of financial assistance, to public services that saw major expenses and, likely to a much smaller extent, to homeowners.
At last count, 1,322 homes across the county were identified as being affected by the rains and high water, she noted, the highest number in the state. Regardless of the level of damage, she said she needs to hear from everyone in order to have a complete picture of the damage and financial toll.
"It doesn't matter – if you were affected by flooding, there is help and we want to get help to you," Tobey said. "Even if you have only an inch of water, you may not qualify for assistance but reporting it is going to help everyone."
People can contact her office at 574-891-2238.
For those eager to get started on recovery, she advised them to take photos of the damage and keep their receipts from repair work.
"We are not gonna stop you from trying to get back to a sense of normalcy," she said. "You're not gonna bother us if you keep asking. If you have questions, call us."
One segment of those affected that they need to hear more from is businesses, Toby noted, since any store or restaurant forced to close by flood damage represents a number of people who've lost their jobs, affecting the economic health of the county.
She also noted that one of their unmet needs as they move into the long-term phase is Spanish-language interpreters. She admitted it was embarrassing that they couldn't communicate with some callers and had to take their phone numbers and call them back when they had a translator available.
Abby Hostetler with Indiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster said undocumented individuals do not need to be afraid to make damage reports. She said no demographic information is taken in the initial assessment, and if a household has a member who was born here, they can apply for assistance on behalf of the family.
"We need an assessment regardless of status," Hostetler said.
Goshen flood grant
Also during the session, Goshen Community Development Director Mark Brinson reported that the city has started taking applications for its assistance program for owner-occupied properties. He noted that 300 structures were impacted and most homeowners don't have flood insurance, so the city wanted to help with immediate needs like furnaces, water heaters, electrical systems and foundations.
The city established the Flood Restoration Grant fund and provided up to $100,000 to match donations, while LaCasa Inc. will administer the program. He said $20,000 has been donated so far, meaning the fund now stands at $40,000.
The program provides two types of grants to Goshen residents who live in owner-occupied residential properties, at a maximum of $2,500.
Repair grants will cover the cost of eligible repairs, determined after LaCasa makes a home visit, draws up a list and engages a contractor for the work. Reimbursement grants for eligible repairs or replacement purchases will be given, according to a fee schedule, after all repair grant applications have been approved or after April 20, whichever is later.
Applications can be picked up at City Hall and the Building and Utilities offices, and also at LaCasa and the Goshen Public Library, though all applications must be submitted to the city Community Development Department. Volunteers will also be dropping off applications this weekend to a list of 115 homes that were identified as eligible, according to Sharon Hernandez, city communications coordinator.
For more information, contact Carla Newcomer at 574-533-6805 or Hernandez at 574-537-3883.