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FEMA housing programs still in the works while some Irma victims live in hotels

Brenda Duff, one of thousands in the Florida Keys left without a place to live by Category 4 Hurricane Irma, talks in the lobby at the Hyatt Place in Marathon on Monday. She can stay there until Oct. 8 with help from FEMA.
Brenda Duff, one of thousands in the Florida Keys left without a place to live by Category 4 Hurricane Irma, talks in the lobby at the Hyatt Place in Marathon on Monday. She can stay there until Oct. 8 with help from FEMA. Keynoter

As Florida Keys residents attempt to recover post-Category 4 Hurricane Irma, which made landfall just over two weeks ago, the housing situation and debris removal continue to be two top concerns.

A small sign of possible things to come: A little more than two dozen travel trailers have been ordered for displaced residents to live in.

But consider this: Gov. Rick Scott in Marathon Monday said about 26,000 people in Monroe County have applied for help through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Statewide, the number is around 1.1 million, he said.

“From what I understand, it’s the highest amount ever in the history of this country for people signing up for federal assistance,” Scott said.

Willie Nunn, federal coordinating officer for FEMA, explained options for people misplaced from their houses.

A program to help homeowners make temporary repairs is in the works, he said, similar to one set up in Louisiana following the August 2016 flood catastrophe. The repairs, done by contractors hired by the state, make the house habitable. The Louisiana program, called Shelter At Home, covered up to $15,000 of costs.

Nunn said there are 27 families countywide that have been deemed eligible for a FEMA trailer program, which means the agency has ordered each family a travel trailer in which to live. Where those trailers will be placed is being figured out.

“Every type of program that FEMA provides, hopefully everyone will fit within one program or another,” Scott said, adding there is money for people to get hotel rooms or rent homes if they have been misplaced. Hotel rooms might be at a premium, though, as relief workers from outside the Keys are taking up a chunk of them.

Brenda Duff is one of the residents who got a hotel room. The former resident of the Galway Bay mobile-home park in Marathon evacuated for the storm and since returning Thursday has been living at the Hyatt Place in Marathon with help from FEMA.

She said the application process for help has been easy and she followed the directions to fill out a Small Business Administration loan application, but what happens next is “pending,” according to the website. Every time her cellphone rings, she said she hopes it’s a FEMA representative with an update. But that phone call has yet to come.

“I’m waiting. I keep going on the website to see where I am,” she said.

Duff is the office manager for Burdine’s Waterfront in Marathon. The popular oceanside restaurant sustained damage during the storm that will keep it closed for another few months, she said.

Duff has until Oct. 8 to stay at the Hyatt with help from FEMA. What happens after is up in the air.

“I’m leaving it to the man upstairs,” said the London native. “But the Hyatt is smashing.”

Meanwhile, Scott told local officials he is utilizing 400 Florida National Guard members and 40 trucks to help Florida Keys families remove debris and clean out flood damage in residential areas.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219

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