Disaster Field Office Opens On Coast

FEMA and MEMA crews transformed a former supermarket building off Highway 49 in Gulfport into their central headquarters. It takes them just a few days to set up such a huge operation.

MEMA Coordinating Officer Leon Shaifer said "They can move into an area, take an old building that's been closed down and inoperable for months, and overnight, you can see what we got right here. It's a nerve center, completely self sufficient and fully functional".

When a natural disaster strikes an area, like South Mississippi, 18-wheelers are loaded up with office equipment and are on stand-by. Once the president issues a major disaster declaration, the vehicles are ready to roll to any disaster site in the country.

Once the disaster field office is up and running, a staff of nearly 150-employees immediately get to work. The workers manage state and federal programs to help storm victims throughout Mississippi.

FEMA Coordinating Officer Mike Bolch said "We help people with emergency repairs to their homes, and grants to help them replace private property, personal clothing, automobiles in some cases, and small business loans".

So far, more than 1,000 storm victims have applied for assistance, and the workers plan to stay for as long as they're needed.

Bolch said "We're here a month, two months, sometimes a little bit longer, depending on the operation, and the amount of people we have to serve".

Shaifer said "We're going to be here until we make sure that every person who's been affected by this, particularly disasters that have been declared by the president, is going to be served".

The Highway 49 office is not where individuals go to apply for help. It's just a management center. FEMA and MEMA are in the process of setting up three disaster recovery centers, where storm victims can go to apply for assistance.

You can also apply over the phone. The number is 1-800-621-FEMA. That's 1-800-621-3362. Remember to call during regular business hours.