SEBRING — Despite its status as the second most-damaged county in Florida from Hurricane Irma, Highlands County only just made the federal list of disaster-affected Florida counties Wednesday evening.
Highlands County residents are being advised to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency as soon as possible at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). TTY users may call 1-800-462-7585.
Highlands County commissioners have stated that they were surprised not to have been on the list ahead of time. For the most part, they don’t assign blame to any entity more than Hurricane Irma.
“The storm didn’t do what it was supposed to do,” Commissioner Jack Richie said.
“It had to do with hurricane forecasting. We were thought not to be in the center of the biggest need,” said Commissioner Jim Brooks. “If we’re not included in the initial (list), we have to be able to justify it.”
Brooks said damage assessments had met that threshold, to his understanding.
For that reason, Commissioner Greg Harris, who works in Hardee County, said both of those counties should have been on the FEMA list. There is no word yet on how soon or how many FEMA staff will be on the way, he said.
Highlands County seems to have had worse damage this time than from Hurricane Charley in 2004, he said. Then, homes were without power for four days, but this time, power may take a week or two. Huge wooden poles carrying transmission lines down County Road 635 snapped, Harris said. It will require a complete rebuild.
To help individuals rebuild, FEMA will require them to fill out an application online with a Social Security number of the head of household, physical and mailing addresses, description of home damage, information on insurance coverage and a reliable telephone number.
Applicants are also advised to contact their insurance company at the same time. FEMA will only pay for those losses not covered by regular insurance.
For more details, visit www.fema.gov.