Stay up to date on the post-Irma help out there

Lower Keys residents now have a one-stop center to get information about Hurricane Irma recovery and resources available for the short- and long-term.

Tuesday morning, the Federal Emergency Management Agency opened its latest Disaster Recovery Center at Monroe County’s Big Pine Community Park, 31009 Atlantis Drive, on the bayside. The hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily until further notice.

Such centers offer in-person support to individuals and small businesses. Recovery specialists from FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the state are available to provide help to anyone filling out their needs applications or updating their status.

The registration process is the first step in recovery and requires information such as insurance policies and bank information for possible direct transfer of money. Survivors are encouraged to register online at DisasterAssistance.gov. before visiting a recovery center.

You can also call the FEMA Helpline at (800) 621-3362 for voice, 711 and Video Relay Service. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY, call (800) 462-7585. No matter which you call, expect long delays on hold.

Information on the registration process is available in American Sign Language at fema.gov/medialibrary/assets/videos/111546.

The American Red Cross has shelters at the Guidance Care Center, on the oceanside next to Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 154 post around mile marker 49; and the Boy Scouts of America camp at 23800 Overseas Highway on Scout Key in the Lower Keys. Tuesday, the Red Cross could not provide specifics on how many beds and what services are available.

There are also what are called Mobile Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams.

These mobile teams carry iPads and can register survivors for FEMA assistance for the first time at their doorstep. They have limited ability to help people update their accounts. Mobile teams will wear FEMA vests, have proper identification and never ask for money.

The teams canvass different neighborhoods each day. For specifics, call the Monroe County Emergency Operations Center hotline at (800) 955-5504.


Kelly Pennwell from the Small Business Development Council at Florida Keys Community College is hosting a session today on how businesses can get bridge loans, loans that help them recover in the short-term.

It’s set for 4 p.m. at Key West City Hall, 1300 White St. There will be one-on-one disaster loan application assistance. You can also go to FloridaDisasterLoan.org or call (850) 898-3489. It’s administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in collaboration with the Florida SBDC Network and supported by Florida First Capital Finance Corp.

Bridge loans are short-term, interest-free loans of up to $50,000 intended to help small businesses bridge the gap between the time of a declared disaster and when the business has secured long-term recovery resources, such as insurance proceeds or federal disaster assistance.

Businesses must have two to 100 employees, been established prior to Sept. 4, 2017, and demonstrate economic injury or physical damage from Hurricane Irma.

For other business help stemming from Irma, contact the SBA Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955, email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov or visiting www.sba.gov/disaster.