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Recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Zeta



A lot of attention in Alabama is being focused on COVID-19 and the state’s vaccination program, but that’s not the only public emergency residents are dealing with. Alabama continues to clean up and recover after a devastating 2020 hurricane season. Assistance is still available for those in need of help after Hurricane Zeta, but time is running out to apply.

Hurricane Zeta slammed into the Gulf Coast in late October as a Category two storm. An emergency disaster declaration for Mobile, Clarke, Dallas, Marengo, Perry, Washington and Wilcox counties did not come from former President Donald Trump until December. It’s now February, and clean-up efforts are still underway with calls for help coming into state and federal agencies every day.

Mike Wade from FEMA said assistance is still available for those who need it.

“FEMA’s goal is to provide assistance for immediate needs,” Wade said. “And our goal is to make your home safe, sanitary and functional so that you can make your long-term repairs.”

The deadline to apply for Hurricane Zeta FEMA assistance is this coming Monday, Feb. 8. Wade said to be eligible for assistance, the damage must have happened between Oct. 28 and 29 in the approved counties.

“First of all, if someone has sustained damage from Hurricane Zeta, if they have insurance, the first thing they should do is file with their insurance company, and then register with FEMA,” he said. “FEMA cannot duplicate any benefits that you’re entitled to from your insurance company.”

Wade said those applying for FEMA assistance must provide proof of loss from their insurance company.

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Those who don’t have insurance must have a letter stating they weren’t covered by insurance when Hurricane Zeta hit. FEMA is making the application process accessible on different platforms.

“Through our 800-number, that’s 1-800-621-3362, or they can online an apply at," Wade said. "Or the third way: they can download the FEMA app and actually apply online through their smartphone or their tablet.”

Click here for FEMA’s Guide to Disaster Resources for Hurricane Zeta Survivors in Alabama.

Wade said sometimes those who apply for help will receive a letter from FEMA saying they aren’t currently eligible for assistance, but that doesn’t always mean they’re being rejected for help outright. Wade says it could just be FEMA needs more information.

“If that letter states that, what you need to do is read the letter to understand,” Wade said. “It could be something really insignificant that was missing in the application process that we need to get that application back moving again. Or if you have insurance, your proof of loss, or documentation showing you’re not insured because you told us you had insurance.”

Wade said if an inspection is required, it will happen as quickly as five to severn days after approval. That process is being done virtually because of COIVD-19. Wade said about a week after that inspection, eligible recipients should receive a “determination letter.” That document outlines what assistance approved applicants are available to receive and how that money should be spent.

“It’s important for people to understand that when you receive money from FEMA, they should spend that money based on need and what is was provided for,” he said. “If it was provided for home repairs, FEMA expects that money to be used on home repairs.”

Wade said a lot of people had to start fixing up their homes themselves. That’s because federal assistance was slow to roll out. He says Alabamians can be reimbursed for the money spent on repairs.

“Anybody who is still doing that, they need to keep the documentation and the receipts to show what repairs they’ve made to make their homes safe, sanitary and functional,” says Wade.

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Other types of assistance being offered comes from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Depending on their county, Alabamians who sustained damage from Hurricane Zeta between Oct. 28 and 29 are eligible for help.

That could come as a Physical Property Damage Loan, an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, or possibly both. Coverage by county can be found at

Chasity Reid with the SBA explained the available assistance, starting with the Physical Property Damage Loan.

“Businesses off all sizes, profit and non-profit organizations, may be eligible for up to $2 million to repair and replace disaster damaged business assets, such as buildings, inventory, furniture and fixtures, machinery and equipment,” Reid said. “In addition, small businesses and most non-profits that have suffered economic losses due to the disaster, may be eligible for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, regardless if they’ve sustained physical damage. These working loans is up to $2 million for necessary ongoing assistance until the business returns to normal.”

Reid said disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace disaster damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible up to $40,000 to repair or replace disaster damaged or destroyed personal property.

“Our loans are low interest rates: as low as 3% for the businesses, 2.75% for non-profit organizations, 1.188% for homeowners and renters,” Reid said. “These terms are up to 30 years. There is also no obligation to take the loan if you’re offered one. You can decline if you please.”

Reid pointed out those approved for a loan can ask for more money or apply for a reduction. She said a big deadline is fast approaching for those seeking help from the SBA. The cut off to apply for the Physical Property Damage Loan is also this coming Monday, Feb. 8. 

“Apply with FEMA through and apply online with SBA. That is our preferred method to reduce any errors,” Reid said. “You can also apply through our virtual disaster loan outreach center. Usually we have a team on the field with one-on-one assistance, but due to COVID, we don’t have any field representatives. We just have the virtual outreach center. The quality is still the same. They are open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can email at, or call 800-659-2955, or request an application by mail.”

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Download Disaster Loan Application Paper Forms from the U.S. Small Business Administration here. 

Reid said agents are available to help with the application process. She said the average time to process a loan application is two to three weeks. Reid the first imbursement is generally made within three to five days after approval, but that could take longer given the volume of applications.

With federal assistance being slow to roll out, many in Alabama had to rely on immediate help from the state. That includes the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and its 2-1-1 service.

Greg Robinson with AEMA said Alabamians can rely on that that assistance before, during and after a disaster.

“We cannot always assume we will receive a federal declaration when there’s a disaster. We need a mechanism for people who have unmet needs in the state. That’s basically our 2-1-1 service,” Robinson said. “ And how that works is an individual can call and tell 2-1-1 about their individual needs. And normally 2-1-1 will set that individual up with a service to help provide those needs. Often times it’s a faith-based or non-profit organization.”  

With the historically active 2020 hurricane season in the rearview mirror and major recovery efforts underway, emergency managers are looking at 2021. Organizations like the Alabama Emergency Management Agency are advising property owners to get ready for whatever 2021 could bring. That includes emergency kits, emergency plans and evacuation routes.

Here’s something that I always think about,” Robinson said. “When it comes to disaster response and people needing help, people sometimes think that local authorities are the first ones on scene, or state or federal assistance. Folks need to realize the individuals who are first on scene when a storm or disaster hits is your neighbor.”

Robinson with AEMA says being prepared can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Not just for you, but for those around you.

“If you are prepared, then you are giving your neighbor a better opportunity to survive,” he says. “If you are prepared to help yourself, then you are prepared to help your neighbor. That preparedness part for an individual is really important. When the disaster is in your front yard or knocking on your door, that’s the wrong time to be trying to put together a plan.”

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Resources on preparedness for national disasters can be found here from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.

Read more building an emergency kit and making an emergency plan here. 

Baillee Majors is the Morning Edition host and a reporter at Alabama Public Radio.
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