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FEMA and SBA staff still working at Port Arthur DRC for holidays

Candice Veal is home away for the holidays, but not too far.

Veal is working at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Recovery Center at Central Mall in Port Arthur. She hails from Zachary, Louisiana, north of Baton Rouge, so Christmas won’t be too blue or too far.

“I got here the first of December (in Port Arthur after Tropical Storm Harvey). I was in Houston and Katy before starting in September,” she said. “I may go home, or my family can come here.

“I’m right next door. If I stay here my family is here in Houston and my friends. They’ll save a plate for me and have a present for me.”

For Thanksgiving, Veal said a friend invited her over to her house and she had an entire spread on the table.

Veal joined FEMA in June and she does application services, appeals and rental assistance.

“They understand this is bigger than that. They understand my purpose for being here. It’s fun,” she said.

David Smith is a local FEMA hire from Houston. He too, said he’s alright with either staying here and working or going to Houston for Christmas.
David Ball/The News

Likewise, David Smith is a local hire for FEMA from Houston. He’s been in Port Arthur for a couple of weeks after working two months in Houston, assisting disaster survivors with their needs such as the status of their application, or if they haven’t received information, or if they haven’t received enough assistance. He also helps guide them through the appeals process.

For instance, one applicant was awarded money, but his contractor said it would cost substantially more to fix his home. Smith directed the man to the proper avenues to document and legitimize any changes.

“It takes a while and all disasters can slow things down,” Smith said. “People are traumatized. They’ve been staying in hotels for months or they’re not lucky enough to get one.”

He added that he has to stay consistent and stable to provide applicants with reliable information. The paperwork, furthermore, has a lot of words and jargon that Smith can put into laymen’s terms.

Smith joined FEMA through a referral process. He passed up employment the first time with the agency. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, however, Smith joined the second time around to help.

“It’s been rewarding. I don’t regret it,” he said.

He doesn’t know what his work schedule will be for the holidays, but he said either way he’s prepared to stay in Port Arthur or go home to Houston for a couple of days.

Meanwhile, Tiana Suber, public information officer for FEMA, has been working in Port Arthur right after Harvey landed. Her assignment is completed and she’ll be home for Christmas in Maryland.

Susheel Kumar, public information officer for the Small Business Administration, said $2.1 billion has been allocated to the area in disaster relief funds for businesses and homeowners, including renters. Port Arthur itself has been allocated $111 million.

Nearly $11 billion have been allocated statewide as of Friday.

Kumar said the SBA is still receiving applications.

“There’s still so much that remains to be done,” he said.

Suber said FEMA’s main focus has been on the survivors’ applications getting registered and getting them into programs.

“Unfortunately some missed the registration deadline on Nov. 30 and they will have to seek other means,” she said. “If they didn’t register, they’re leaving money on the table. We’re still here to help out. We’ll be here till all the needs are met.”

Those with extenuating circumstances, such as being hospitalized or deployed, and couldn’t register will be considered for registration.

The FEMA Disaster Recovery Center is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 12 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. There are 25 to 30 staff members remaining at the DRC.