Meeting’s message: Help still here

FEMA’s Martin Blake explains how Clovis residents can obtain FEMA assistance Wednesday at a Town Hall meeting. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Jean Verlich: CNJ news editor

Nine students from Lockwood Elementary School received hugs at Wednesday’s Town Hall meeting from Clovis Police Chief Dan Blair, Curry County Sheriff Matt Murray and Clovis Fire Chief Ray Westerman.

The students presented the officials with posters and letters to thank them for the recovery efforts by police, firefighters, sheriff’s department staff and emergency medical technicians after March 23’s tornado.

But the help available to area residents is far from ending. The meeting afforded more than two dozen federal, state and local officials and social service agency representatives to tell about 60 attendees and a local cable TV audience the many avenues available to seek assistance for damages sustained in the tornado.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said the first step to receiving assistance is to register by applying online at www.fema.gov or calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362).

Martin Blake, human services branch chief for Region 6, based out of Denton, Texas, said FEMA will not duplicate insured coverages but may cover uninsured losses. Blake said assistance is available to U.S. citizens, noncitizen nationals and qualified aliens.

Residents were told to complete a Small Business Administration form they may receive that qualifies them for a loan even if they do not contact the SBA directly. The form will be sent if FEMA decides their losses are not eligible for FEMA assistance but may be eligible for SBA loans.

Phil Duncan from the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance described the types of loans available for personal uninsured losses that are at a 2.875 percent fixed rate for up to 30 years. Duncan said businesses may be eligible for 4 percent fixed rate loans for either physical damage or economic injury at a total of $1.5 million.

Duncan also advised homeowners to be cautious if their mortgage company suggests using an insurance settlement to pay off their mortgage. That may not be the best solution, Duncan said, and advised homeowners to have their mortgage company provide written documentation attesting to the viability of the pay off.

Mayor David Lansford also cautioned that some needs won’t be met by FEMA or SBA. To help meet those needs, the Eastern New Mexico Disaster Recovery Council has been organized with representatives from 36 organizations to oversee the collection and distribution of funds.

Lansford introduced Lance Clemmons, president of the Ministerial Alliance and pastor at First Presbyterian Church, as chairman and Erinn Burch, United Way of Eastern New Mexico executive director, as vice chairman.

Lansford said all monies raised by “Operation: Disaster Recovery” will be used to provide assistance to those in need and no dollars will be used for administrative expenses.

City Manager Joe Thomas also told there have been reports of fraudulent activity with home repairs, and advised residents to verify contractors are licensed by calling the city.

Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm reported the city’s schools are up and running. “The best thing,” she said about the tornado was “we had just gone on spring break,” she said.

Seidenwurm said 42 families districtwide suffered major losses as a result of the tornado.