The "blue shirts" of the Federal Emergency Management Agency were standing outside restaurants and approaching people in grocery stores Monday, making a concerted effort to see that Ward County residents affected by the Souris River flood get registered for assistance.
For John Dwyer, one of 19 community relations representatives wearing the dark blue polo shirts in Minot, has served all across the country in disasters ranging from tornadoes and hurricanes to flood and fires.
"Every disaster is unique but similar in the sense that people have been affected and need information, and that's what we are here to provide," he said.
Jill Schramm/MDN • FEMA worker John Dwyer shares information about federal assistance with a grocery shopper outside MarketPlace Foods on Broadway Monday.
Jill Schramm/MDN • A FEMA worker awaits an assistance applicant in the disaster recovery center in Minot Municipal Auditorium Monday.
Jill Schramm/MDN • FEMA worker Linda Yee hangs a flier in the window of McDonald’s restaurant Monday.
In Minot, community relations workers are going to where people congregate to provide information about registering for assistance and answer questions.
They are prepared to answer questions about FEMA, but they get asked all kinds of things. A woman who approached workers Linda Yee of New Hampshire and Manuel Portela of Puerto Rico outside MarketPlace Foods to find out who might service holding tanks on evacuees' campers left happy with a referral to the emergency response center.
Portela visited with a Minot flood victim frustrated with the lack of rental units even though he can get rental assistance.
"People are very emotional because of the stress," Portela said, noting that there is a psychological aspect to the service FEMA provides.
Dwyer and Noel Boxer, FEMA external affairs officer who comes from Nevada, encountered a woman in tears over her damaged home and her lack of closure because of restrictions preventing her from nearing the flood zone.
Boxer assured her that an inability to document damages won't prevent anyone from receiving assistance.
"Until the water has receded, it's going to be difficult to know what the damages are, but we can still get your application in," he said.
The woman accepted a flier for herself and a couple more for others so she could pass on the information to friends.
Patty Kaler, who works at MarketPlace Foods, was among employees who flocked to the FEMA staff.
"I am very glad to see you guys," she said. "We found out our house is up to the roof. ... You work your whole life for what you have, and it's gone."
Dwyer, who lives in Washington state, said wherever he goes in the country, his efforts commonly are met with gratefulness. He's had that experience over the past eight years in working with FEMA in Virginia, New York, Hawaii, Nebraska, Missouri, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and California.
"They are glad to see us," he said. "People in North Dakota are especially welcoming and friendly. They stop us as we are going down the street and thank us."
The thanks doesn't just come from flood victims, either. Leaving McDonald's restaurant, they received an unexpected pat on the back from a former North Dakotan visiting from Oklahoma.
"You guys are doing a good job," he said.
Their presence outside the restaurant caught the attention of a flood victim who wasn't planning to register with FEMA because she had insurance. As she visited with the workers, Yee encouraged her to apply for assistance because she may have needs that insurance won't cover.
Boxer added that people who are living with host families also might be unaware of potential eligibility for rental assistance. They can claim assistance and pay a host family rent if they are living in separate space that is or could be considered a rental unit. Just a bedroom in a home would not be considered a rental unit.
FEMA also is spreading the word about the Small Business Administration, which was welcome news to a local grocery employee whose father doesn't know where to start to get his business going again.
"I have to walk my dad through it," he told Dwyer. "He doesn't have a clue."
Down at the recovery assistance center in Minot Municipal Auditorium, Roger Busch, public information officer with the SBA, said the biggest surprise to people is that the agency isn't just for business. The SBA is offering loans of up to $200,000 to homeowners to repair property and up to $40,000 to homeowners and renters to replace personal property. The interest rate is 2.5 percent. Business may borrow up to $2 million at 4 percent for any combination of property damage or economic injury.
The economic injury damages are available to any business affected by the flood, whether inundated by water or not. Applications related to physical damage are due Aug. 23, but the deadline for applying for economic injury loans is March 21, 2012.
The first step to getting an SBA loan is to register with FEMA.
Through Sunday night, 1,856 people from Ward and Burleigh County had registered with FEMA. Between 80 and 90 percent were from Ward County, Boxer said.
FEMA is encouraging people to register as soon as possible, but recovery assistance centers will remain open as long as people keep coming.
FEMA is set up at the disaster recovery centers in the Minot Municipal Auditorium and Minot State University Dome, but workers also are scattered around town to let people know about the centers and to share the FEMA's hotline and Website where people can register.
Once registered, a FEMA inspector will call within a day or two to set up an appointment.
Amanda Blomberg, who was washed out of her apartment by the flood, traveled from Williston where she is staying with family to meet with an inspector outside McDonald's Restaurant after registering two days earlier.
"It means a lot," Blomberg said of the FEMA rental assistance. The financial help comes at a critical time, she said, because she just graduated from MSU in May and still is working on her social work internship. That internship training now will be completed in Williston.
In addition to the two Minot centers, a center was setup at the Bank of North Dakota in Bismarck. Minot flood victims who have relocated to the Bismarck area can visit that center.
At the auditorium Monday, there was a line leading into the center. People were lined up before the doors opened at the center at the Dome, Boxer said. Center hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
People do not need to visit a center but can call FEMA at 1-800-621 FEMA (3362) or log onto (www.disasterassistance.gov). People who visit the center will be assisted in registering by phone and can get any questions answered. People will need to have their Social Security numbers, private insurance information, address and directions to the damaged properties and phone numbers.
Gina Horn reports the process has been quick and easy for her. She hoped to have her paperwork all completed by the time she left the assistance center Monday. The real work starts when the flood waters recede, but Horn is prepared to do what it takes to return to her home.
"It's kind of hard to just walk away," she said.