October 26, 2007

Bush Declares San Diego A Federal Disaster Area - Money Available to San Diego County Residents for Recovery

By E.A. Barrera

President George W. Bush has declared San Diego County a federal disaster area, making residents of all areas hit by the 2007 firestorm eligible for federal aid to assist in the recovery process. That assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Nifa Lopez, standing, left, talks with friends and relatives who are staying at a shelter at Qualcomm Stadium for thousands of people who had been evacuated from the fires burning in San Diego County. Lopez, originally from Mexico, was evacuated along with numerous close and extended family members, from the rural community of Ramona, which was hit hard by the fires. Photo - David Maung

“This is the news we have been waiting for an it will really accelerate the rebuilding effort. It is really good news,” said San Diego Board of Supervisor’s chairman Ron Roberts.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a statement saying those who sustained losses could begin applying for assistance as early as October 25. People seeking information can register online at http://www.fema.gov or by calling either 800-621-FEMA (3362) or 800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

President Bush came to San Diego on October 25 and what he saw was a natural disaster estimated to be worse than the Katrina Hurricane of 2005 and the single worst fire storm in California history. The President’s declaration follows on the heels of California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner’s statements on assistance to victims of the recovery.

“My heart goes out to the victims and evacuees of the fires. I will utilize all the resources at my disposal to ensure fire survivors’ are treated fairly, quickly and honestly,” said Poizner. “The Department of Insurance has offered to support local officials at their ‘one-stop shop’ disaster assistance centers, in addition to the facilities coordinated by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. I have fraud-fighting teams ready to move into fire storm areas once it is appropriate. Additionally, at the request of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department we have deployed approximately a dozen investigators for assistance.”

Poizner said he reminded public adjusters of a law enacted after the 2003 wildfires that prohibits them from soliciting homeowners for adjusting business for seven calendar days after the disaster.

“The purpose of the law is to permit victims, such as victims of this week’s fires, to have some time to comprehend their losses before contracts relating to their losses are solicited,” said Poizner.

Poizner said his department had contacted insurance companies’ “Catastrophe Assistance Teams” to be sure they were working with the local, state and federal disaster response efforts. He said fire victims should conducted home inventories of assets, and take the time to catalogue the condition of their homes and assets.

“Locate receipts for major purchases, such as art, electronic equipment, appliances. Should you need to file a claim, these steps will expedite the recovery process,” said Poizner. “I urge Californians who have questions or problems with their insurance policies to call our Hotline at 800.927. HELP (4357).”

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