Hello friends and neighbors. It is good to see you here.

As I write this, Hurricane Michael is bearing down on the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm. I have family in the Panhandle so the outcome of the storm is of special interest to me. My granddaughter Haleigh is out of the way in Gainesville, FL thank goodness. We’ve just been there, done that with Hurricane Florence and are still doing it so our hearts and prayers go out to them.

Farewell Florence

Jacksonville Parks and Recreation is sponsoring a “We are #JacksonvilleNCStrong Farewell Florence” event from 6 to 9 p.m., Oct. 19 at 100 Recreation Lane, Jacksonville. There will be live music by the group “Push Play,” a rock wall, hay ride, life-sized Pac Man, Corn Hole, carnival games, a game trailer and glow-in-the-dark laser tag. The event is free and open to the public. Donated school supplies will be collected at the event. Please consider bringing a school supply donation. Call (910) 938-5312 or JacksonvilleNC.gov/Recreation for more information.

I pray it does not become a Hello Michael party. Call the Citizens’ Phone Bank at 910-989-5027 with questions about Michael.

The Festival of the Trees is a go

Despite Hurricane Florence, Onslow Caregivers’ Festival of Trees will be held Nov. 17-18 (the weekend before Thanksgiving) at the American Legion building as is traditional, said event organizer Jean Cole. It will be a scaled-down version due to the storm but there will be trees, mini trees, a Silent Auction, Sweet Shoppe, nonstop entertainment, Santa Claus, children’s activities and Country Store. Business, organization and individual tree sponsors, donations for the Country Store, mini trees sponsors, monetary donations and volunteers are needed.

The Festival of Trees is a community holiday celebration of live trees and fun to benefit home health and hospice patients. Please come, please help. Call Jean at 910-324-1650 or Bonnie at 910-330-5384.

Flunking FEMA

I evacuated to Greensboro for Hurricane Florence and arrive back home on Tuesday after the flood waters had begun to recede. Google and NC DOT website helped us navigate home through the flooded roads.

Upon arrival at home, I found a hole in my roof and the house was taking on water. The huge tree that hit the corner of my home was laying on my roof, deck and yard. Another large tree lay right beside it along with several small trees. The cedar trees in the front had limbs hanging everywhere. But, my family and I had shelter from the storm and a dry place to lay our heads. We were grateful.

I was overwhelmed and did not know where to begin to repair the damage and clean up the debris. On Friday I received a text from a friend telling me that a local church was coordinating volunteers to help people secure roofs and remove downed trees. Thank you Jesus, I said.

I called the church and spoke to a nice lady. She said the church would help me but I would have to file with my insurance and FEMA first. Cell service was shaky, there was no power and it was hot. I held my cell phone up and drove towards Jacksonville until I found enough bars where I could make these calls without dropping the signal. It was in front of Johnson’s Drugs in Southwest. The store was not open so I did not think they would mind me sitting there to make my calls.

So I sat in the hot car and called Farm Bureau. I was told I would be put on a list and an insurance adjuster would contact me. Next I called FEMA as instructed. I spoke with a representative named Altman who yawned through the entire procedure and haltingly read the required disclaimers and instructions. I commiserated with her that I could tell she had been there a long time but she did not comment. She took my information and then said she was going to ask me some questions. By this time, my cell phone indicated that I had been on the telephone for 60 minutes sitting in the hot car.

“I am going to read a list of streets and you tell me which of them you have lived,” she said. I didn’t recognize any of them but “Lagoon” but I had not lived there, my son Andy had in Panama City Beach, FL. My father was a Marine and my husband was a Marine so I could not list the names of all the streets where I have lived on both hands. So, I flunked that question.

The next question she asked is how old is Krystal Morley? Krystal Morley is my sister-in-law. She has legally dropped the name Krystal and I don’t know how old she is. She was born in 1961 I told the woman so how old does that make her?

“What does the age of my sister-in-law have to do with filing a FEMA claim?” I asked her. It was about that time that I realized she had Googled me or run a background check. “Oh my God,” I thought, “this is a scam and I have just given her all my personal information.”

Altman explained to me that these are security questions to make sure I am not making a fraudulent FEMA claim. I had missed three of the questions so I could not open an online account at FEMA and would have to call them to find out if my claim had been accepted.

I explained to her that I was tired, hot and stressed and requested that she ask the questions again. “No,” Altman said, “we have gone past them now.”

I had been on the phone 74 minutes in the heat and according to FEMA, I was filing a fraudulent claim. Filing a real claim was more pain than I could stand, much less a fraudulent one. I cried. It was just all too much.

I called the church lady back and told her I had filed a claim with my insurance company and with FEMA and asked if she could help me now. I told her that I needed a roofer to look at my roof and the former lady had told me the volunteer roofers should arrive here on Monday. She must have heard in my voice how upset I was because she assured me, “You are not in this alone,” and prayed with me.

She took my information and told me I would have to fill out an application but that I could do that after a volunteer had put a tarp on my roof on Monday.

“There will be someone at your house Monday morning to put a tarp on your house. Do not worry,” she comforted me.

I have yet to hear from or see a volunteer from the organization. I know they are inundated and I probably got lost in the shuffle. So, I flunked getting church help too.

I called FEMA a week later and my claim was denied. FEMA representative Frances was very competent but I flunked the questions again, I’m still a fraud, and I still don’t have an online account. However, FEMA sent me an email to tell me my request for help was denied but that the federal Small Business Association would be contacting me to apply for a low interest loan.

“If your insurance claim is denied please contact us again,” the email read.

I hope you are safe and dry and passing FEMA.

Thank you for coming.

 

Carolyn Alford's column appears here each week. She can be reached at calfordster@gmail.com