February 27, 2024
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By Samantha Sydeski

Lisa Bregenzer describes her three-month experience since Hurricane Idalia hit land as being homeless, helpless and hopeless.

She lost her home in Horseshoe Beach, where she lived for seven years. The house had been in the family for several generations.

She said, “I have always owned a house, had always a roof above my head and always felt secure, but for the first, this has been a nightmare.”

On August 30, Hurricane Idalia struck the Big Bend region as a category 3 hurricane. Residents in affected areas still struggle to get financial aid from government agencies three months after the disaster.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has received more than 76,000 applications for grants totaling about 70 million dollars.

Read more: El Nino was a factor in preventing storms from hitting the U.S. during this hurricane season. Next year, what about?

Bregenzer told us that she had been trying to get a camper since the hurricane. It seems that there are always more hoops to jump through.

FEMA told her that the space was not big enough. It was first her oak tree, which the agency didn’t want to crash onto the camper. Then, the size and breed of her dogs was what prevented government help.

She said, “For nine or 10 weeks they promised you a camping trailer, but it never came. It all comes down to Horseshoe Beach’s flood zone.” They knew this all along. So why did they keep us waiting by telling us that we would be getting a camping trailer?

After FEMA denied her assistance, she has lived with neighbors and stayed with relatives. Bregenzer’s family was offered a place to stay in a Dixie County motel by the American Red Cross, but they refused.

She said: “They want to move us to Citrus County and Columbia County, where there is no support or help for us, we don’t have any friends, nor a community.” These counties are located at least 70-miles away.

Alberto Pillot, FEMA’s media relations specialist, said that the agency tries to place people on temporary rental or direct leasing programs because travel trailers and other housing programs can take a long time to start.

He said, “We say that’s the last resort because it can take so long. We want to make sure we absorb all the available rental properties in the area.”

Pillot stated that they are still processing the applications and it is different from when the disaster occurred. At the start of the catastrophe, he said, the process could have taken up to two weeks, depending on how many applications were received.

Vicki Benton (66), a resident of Horseshoe Beach, also lives in a trailer so that she can get out before the hurricane hits.

She left behind on her property a shed that contained personal belongings worth approximately $12,000, which were damaged in the storm. She said that even though it was her main residence, FEMA refused to help her because her camper had not been damaged.

She said, “I was disappointed that I expected FEMA to help me and everyone else no matter where I lived.”

Benton says she has been approved for a Small Business Administration loan of $4,500. However, it does not cover the cost and almost isn’t worth getting.

Bob Berger (77), who lives on Cooey Island in Steinhatchee, just up the coast from where he is, claimed that despite being refused by FEMA and SBA, his family received little help. His wife and he could not afford insurance, he claimed. They lived in a high-risk flood area.

His home had been flooded by 18 inches of rainwater from Hurricane Sandy. He was also left with an air conditioner that was damaged, and a roof with a hole.

FEMA has paid them $1,500 despite the fact that they are unsure of their total damages.

He said, “It’s a small amount of what is needed to fix our home.”

Pillot responded to the question of what qualifies a house for FEMA assistance. “Again, having a larger family or a smaller family does not mean that you will receive different grant dollars.”

According to him, the decision on whether or not someone will receive assistance depends upon the kind of disaster that occurred and the extent of the damage in each house.

On Nov. 8, Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill that provides hurricane relief to the counties affected by Hurricane Idalia. This included funding of $176.17 millions for the My Safe Florida Home Program.

17 600 applicants have requested financial assistance through the program. It is important to bring homes up to date with the most recent building codes to ensure they are protected from storms in the future.

Berger claimed that he was unaware of the program’s existence until a few months ago, and only learned about it after the deadline for applications.

He said: “I would like to know how and by whom they learned about this, as well as who will actually receive some of the funds for raising their home.”

Even though funds and vendor bills are signed and laws and funding are granted, residents of Keaton Beach like Ann Loose (59) are still waiting to have the debris picked up, more than three month later.

Initially, she said, the county was responsible for all storm cleanup, and that everyone should cut down limbs, debris, and place them along the roads. DeSantis signed an executive directive later transferring the responsibility of road cleaning to Florida Department of Transportation. But FDOT said it would not be picking up debris along non-county-maintained roads.

It looks as if a tornado swept through. Loose remarked, “There are huge oak trees.” It’s a complete mess,” Loose said.

Loose said the residents who live on county-maintained roads had their debris picked up, while on non-county-maintained roads, such as Yates Creek, there are 100 properties with trees still lining the roads.

Residents in the region have contacted elected officials for a possible solution, but they haven’t received a response.

Loose added, “We also pay tax.”

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