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Hurricane Sally Victims In Florida Seek Federal Help


People cleaning up from Hurricane Sally in northwest Florida are frustrated that they're getting no relief from the federal government, but people hit by the storm in neighboring Alabama are getting help. Officials in Pensacola are pushing FEMA for more aid, as NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: The birds are back in the trees that are still standing in Pensacola's Mayfair neighborhood, a collection of modest cinderblock homes once surrounded by stately oak trees. Hurricane Sally uprooted many of them, now heaped in people's yards.

JAMES BENSON: It was a lot of trees down. And I mean, like, by the grace of the good Lord, we got them out of the house. It was three, four trees on the house on the side over here.

ELLIOTT: James Benson and his wife Jacqueline are sitting on the front stoop, counting their blessings.

JACQUELINE BENSON: It was one terrifying moment to hear things I never heard - wind whistle. And it was like a lady was hollering, and I never heard all this here. Lord, it was so scary.

ELLIOTT: The Bensons both have heart problems and say the trees would still be on top of their house if not for help from a church group out of Georgia. Florida's federal disaster declaration for this county included public assistance that governments can use to clean up debris, for instance, but no help for individuals has been approved yet. The Bensons don't understand why.

JAMES BENSON: But they are in Alabama, and I think we had a lot of damage here, too. We still was in the tragedy, too. We was there...


JAMES BENSON: ...You know? But so far, we ain't getting no help.

ELLIOTT: FEMA has already provided more than $15 million in individual assistance to Alabama storm victims. In Florida, Escambia County commissioners have sent a letter to President Trump, seeking approval for individual assistance here. But it's been slow-going, says commission vice chairman Robert Bender.

ROBERT BENDER: We've been making this case that our citizens do need help. And really, what we're asking for is - we understand that not everyone who applies is going to get it, but at least give them the chance to apply and give them the opportunity to try to seek this federal help that is so needed.

ELLIOTT: Bender says the county has been trying to document the damage, estimated to top $300 million. A FEMA spokesperson says the agency is still assessing the impact and could make an additional designation at a later date. An emailed statement said several factors are under consideration, including the capacity for state and local governments and the private sector to meet the needs of disaster survivors. The number of uninsured properties is also at play. But that's little solace now, more than two weeks after the storm, for the hundreds of people displaced by Hurricane Sally. Roverick Blount is one of them.

ROVERICK BLOUNT: I don't think the federal government realizes the damage that occurred.

ELLIOTT: The entire roof ripped off the house he shares with his roommate and her three kids. They've lost everything, their soiled belongings piled up at the curb. Blount says now they're relying on friends and family.

BLOUNT: In America, it shouldn't have to be that way. It should be where the people are suffering, the government needs to step up and do what they are supposed to do as far as helping the people.

ELLIOTT: Blount says without that help, it could take months to come back.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Pensacola, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.