- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The first applications for government disaster assistance poured in this week as area residents continued to dig out from the damage wreaked by Hurricane Isabel.

The applicants are seeking grants or loans from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) to replace or repair damaged property.

Insured property losses from Hurricane Isabel could exceed $1 billion, which would make it one of the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

The few hundred federal grant and loan applications filed so far are expected to grow into the thousands in the next few weeks.

“We just started this,” said FEMA spokesman Eugene Brezany.

FEMA took the first telephone applications Sunday morning. By Monday evening, 263 Washington area homeowners had applied for grants. The agency so far has given out $17,216 in grants.

“Those numbers are going to grow dramatically,” Mr. Brezany said.

After an assessment by FEMA inspectors, homeowners can qualify for up to $5,000 in grants to pay for basic repairs to make homes “safe, secure, sanitary,” Mr. Brezany said.

A similar process is followed by the SBA for homeowners and businesses seeking low-interest loans.

Twice as many grant and loan applications are coming from Virginia than anywhere else in the region.

One Virginia business that plans to apply for an SBA loan is the Christmas Attic, at 125 S. Union Street in Alexandria, one block from the waterfront.

“The water must have surged,” said Fay Carter, owner of the year-round Christmas ornament and gift shop. “When I looked inside, there was 2 feet of standing water. When I opened the door, ornaments floated out.”

The store reopened yesterday but is doing business only on its second floor. The first floor will need to be repaired and renovated, Mrs. Carter said.

By Monday afternoon in Virginia, 1,234 businesses had called FEMA and requested SBA disaster loan applications. In Maryland, 537 businesses had called and in the District, 29 businesses.

Among homeowners and renters, 7,267 in Virginia had called by Monday afternoon to ask for SBA disaster loan applications. In Maryland, there have been 2,684 requests for home loan applications and 120 in the District.

“Basically, we’re still in the response mode,” said Herb Mitchell, the SBA’s associate administrator for disaster assistance.

The SBA expects many more applications for federal loans in the next few weeks.

“It takes time for folks to get their lives back together,” Mr. Mitchell said.

About 80 percent of SBA disaster-relief loans go to homeowners and renters. The rest are given to businesses. Homeowners can qualify for up to $200,000 in loans and renters up to $40,000. Businesses can get as much as $1.5 million.

Applicants for disaster-relief grants and loans can register by calling FEMA at 800/621-3362.

The SBA is opening a workshop center today in Alexandria at the Nannie J. Lee Center at 1108 Jefferson St., where loan applicants can get information about disaster relief. FEMA and the SBA plan to open additional centers in the Washington area in the next few days.

Alexandria’s Chamber of Commerce already told the SBA that at least 10 to 20 downtown businesses would seek loans.

“Our area was significantly affected,” said Ken Moore, Alexandria Chamber of Commerce president. “You saw people without power, without water, people with flooding damage.”

Other areas are still trying to figure out the assistance they need.

“We don’t have a number,” said Joy Young, Rockville Chamber of Commerce executive director. “I know the insurance-claims people say they are going to be in the area for months.”

The SBA business disaster loans cover uninsured losses, with interest rates as low as 3.1 percent over 30 years. Typically, they help pay for repairs or replacement to real estate, machinery, equipment and inventory.

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