Homeowners hit by Ida find many questions and few answers as they seek post-storm aid

A home is seen with major damage in Mullica Hill

A home sustained major damage after a tornado touched down in Mullica. Hill, New Jersey. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Days after Ida walloped the Philadelphia region, homeowners are beginning to assess in earnest the damage the unusual tropical storm wrought.

Elliot Fine, who lives in Center City Philadelphia, woke up Thursday to find his ground floor submerged in 2 feet of water. He had slept through the brunt of the storm, including when neighbors tried knocking on his front door to urge him to move his car away from the muddy waters flooding his section of 23rd Street.

Now, Fine, 37, is trying to figure out what help may be on the way. Like many of his neighbors, he never purchased flood insurance. Aside from a storm 20 years ago, he said there’s never been any weather that warranted it.

“This is not covered under regular insurance. This has to be a FEMA policy, which we don’t have,” said Fine.

It’s unclear when residents like him will get some answers.

In Philadelphia, the Schuylkill River surged nearly a dozen feet above flood stage, turning some blocks into tributaries. For now, officials are directing affected residents to the city’s Flood Management Program page, which includes citywide and neighborhood-level resources, including for Manayunk, where Main Street was badly flooded.

Spokesperson Joy Huertas said that the city is encouraging businesses and homeowners to take photos of any storm or flood damage once the waters recede — but before any repairs are made.

Huertas said Friday that the city also is asking residents and businesses affected by the storm to answer a short survey and upload photos into the Office of Emergency Management’s assessment tool. 

In addition to documenting damage to their homes, the Red Cross recommends that residents prepare a list of damaged or lost items and keep receipts for any additional expenses, such as lodging and repairs. It advises homeowners to contact their insurance agent, broker or insurance company as soon as possible to report how, when and where the damage occurred.

Bucks County, which experienced another major storm in July, is telling residents to share damage details with their municipalities or with the county. That data will then be relayed to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, which will make the case to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a federal disaster declaration. The declaration is needed for residents to apply for public relief dollars. A similar process can lead to counties receiving money to offset the cost of repairing damaged public infrastructure, like roads.

PEMA director Randy Padfield said Friday that his agency would continue to survey and assess flood damage through the weekend, with hopes of having enough information early next week to submit to FEMA, which will ultimately decide if a disaster declaration is warranted.

It’s unclear when a final determination will be made, Padfield said, given the number of states in the middle of the same process as a result of Hurricane Ida and its remnants.

New Jersey, which lost 25 people to flooding-related causes, has been under a state of emergency. The Red Cross for the New Jersey region has been operating two shelters, both in North Jersey, according to NJ.com. One is located at 600 Washington Ave. in Somerset County; the other is at the International High School in Passaic County.

The state’s Office of Emergency Management has also launched a home cleanup hotline. People who need help can call 844-965-1386.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest union for school staffers, is reminding members of its disaster relief fund, which is specifically available to those who were displaced from their homes as a result of the storm.

It offers members up to $1,000.

‘“It’s just a small way to step up as a union to help fellow members in need in a time of crisis,” said spokesperson Steve Baker.

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