Cry for help: Pinellas County residents dealing with Eta storm damage want answers, FEMA assistance

Pinellas County

MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) — Hundreds living in Pinellas County beachfront communities are still dealing with storm damage from Tropical Storm Eta.

That includes Cathy Farrell who says two weeks ago, water was waist-deep in the streets and ankle-high in her home.

“Completely overwhelmed, we were just completely overwhelmed,” she said, recalling Tropical Storm Eta. “It came in so fast.”

8 On Your Side went to Madeira Beach Friday to see how families were doing and followed up on Tuesday. Farrell says she and her mom are neighbors – both with floors, baseboards, and furniture destroyed by the storm.

“We lost all our doors, we can’t get the pocket doors out [because the water swelled the wood] causing them to stick,” Farrell said.

We reached out to the office of Congressman Charlie Crist on Friday after neighbors had reached out in hopes of receiving assistance from FEMA. Hours later, Crist’s office sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking him to request FEMA’s assistance for multiple beach towns in Pinellas County.

8 On Your Side reached out to Crist’s office again Tuesday to get an update on what was next for those affected by Eta.

“We have not heard back [from the governor’s office] yet. We’re hopeful that we will,” Rep. Crist said. “It’s a reasonable request and it’s just the right thing to do for the people of Pinellas County.”

8 On Your Side called Gov. DeSantis’ office on Tuesday. They forwarded our request to the state’s Division of Emergency Management. A spokesman says workers are assessing the damage and, if there’s enough, they’ll declare a major disaster declaration to help individual families in the coming weeks.

“Pinellas County is trying to collect all that information to show what we’re suffering,” Linda Portal with the City of Madeira Beach said.

Portal tells us 8 On Your Side’s recent story helped with the city’s progress.

“People have been making comments, they’ve seen the report,” she said.

Portal adds they’re still waiting to hear from about 200 people. She’s urging residents dealing with storm damage to use licensed contractors and get city permits before reconstruction.

But the Farrell family says they need FEMA’s help now.

“Just don’t forget us. Don’t forget us. We’re just a small neighborhood but the damage was quite extensive,” Farrell said. “We may be a small group of people in the scope of things. It may not be major but it’s major for us.”

The city said PODS are usually only allowed at a house for a couple of days but they’ve extended it to three months while repairs from the storm are underway.

Portal said all construction, even restoration, must be permitted. You can check online to see if your contractor is licensed.

City of Madeira Beach officials told us they have waived fees for restoration work and are expediting review and permitting in order to get people back in their homes. You can call (727) 399-9951 immediately for direction and advice before beginning building or repairs. The city said you can just ask for permitting or restoration help and they will put you through to someone. You can also email planning@madeirabeachfl.gov with questions and for information about insurance, flood resilience and your property and restoration values.

Anyone with storm damage is asked to report it to the city and county.

A city spokesman said FEMA offers $30,000 in grant funds – increased cost of compliance (ICC) grants – to help those with flood damage avoid future flooding by raising their home, demolishing it to replace with a raised structure or moving the home out of the floodplain. A city spokesman said the FEMA ICC grant application form for your adjuster can be found online.

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