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FEMA: Wait times for disaster assistance may depend on how critical your need is

New disaster recovery centers are popping up weekly in the Tampa Bay area.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla — The Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided more than $1.4 billion to the state of Florida and households to help in Hurricane Ian's recovery efforts. To streamline the process, disaster recovery centers (DRCs) are opening weekly in impacted counties across the state. 

But getting the help you need after a disaster is not always a simple process. Joanne O'Brien got a letter from FEMA seemingly denying her federal aid. Her home currently has several holes in the roof, with a tarp on top to patch it. 

"They said I was not eligible," O'Brien said. "And the next paragraph said that you are eligible for the $700."

She said when she called a FEMA agent, she was told she was not eligible for monetary aid and the letter was sent mistakenly. 

"I did get a check on Friday," O'Brien said, recalling her confusion. "I saw it in my account and thought I wasn't eligible so I called and they said yes, 'you are eligible.'"

Despite the confusion, O'Brien was glad to have the help. It's a starting point for her to replace essentials. 

"I replaced my medicine, the food," O'Brien said.

O'Brien had to throw out all of her furniture due to mold. She sleeps on a daybed that was donated to her, or sometimes at a friend's house.

To help others in similar situations like O'Brien's, DRCs have been opening up in more and more counties across the state following the impacts of the storm. 

"This is where you can come to work one on one with your application, with any documents that might still be needed," Darrell Habish, spokesperson for FEMA, said. "You can find out the status of your application here."

While wait times to the FEMA national call center can be hours long, visiting a DRC in person is often a faster option. 

"This is much, much quicker," Habish said. 

The time you may need to wait to receive aid all depends on your situation, according to Habish.

"The wait times could be immediate if it's critical needs," Habish said. "It may be a few days if it's something simple and easily identifiable like damage." 

FEMA still has crews going door to door to check on Floridians, but the best way to get help is by reaching out to them yourself. 

And if you have and are waiting on a response, O'Brien encourages you to be as thorough as you can.

"When you get a letter of denial, please read it all the way through because you may be missing something, which I did," O'Brien said.

Below is a list of all FEMA disaster recovery centers now open in Florida. 

Cuyler Park Community Center, 2331 Harry T. Moore Ave., Mims, FL 32754
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Tringali Rec Center, 3450 N Access Rd., Englewood, FL 34224
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Veterans Community Park, 1895 Veterans Park Dr., Naples, FL 34109
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Brewer Sports Park, 1347 SE Hargrave St, Arcadia, FL 34266
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Hardee County Civic Center, 515 Civic Center Dr., Wauchula, FL 33873
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Highlands County Extension Office, 4509 George Blvd., Sebring, FL 33875
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

HCC Regent – 6437 Watson Road, Riverview FL 33578
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

First Baptist Church of Astor Lake County, 24731 Ann St., Astor, FL 32102
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Lakes Regional Library, 15290 Bass Rd., Fort Myers, FL 33919
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Fort Myers DMS Building, 2295 Victoria Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33901
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

John Marble Park, 3675 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton, FL 34203
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Okeechobee County Library, 206 SW 16th Street, Okeechobee, FL 34974
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Barnett Park, 4801 W. Colonial Dr., Orlando, FL 32808
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Hart Memorial Central Library, 211 E. Dakin Ave., Kissimmee, FL 34741
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

W.H. Stuart Center, 1702 S. Holland Pkwy., Bartow, FL 33830
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Shannon Staub Public Library, 4675 Career La., North Port, FL 34289
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Seminole State College - Barbara Miller Automotive Center, 100 Weldon Blvd., Sanford, FL 32773
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Wind Mitigation Building, 3111 Agricultural Center Dr., St. Augustine, FL 32092
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily 

Volusia County Health Department, 1845 Holsonback Dr., Daytona Beach, FL 32117
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

It is not necessary to visit a center to apply. People can go online to disasterassistance.gov, use the FEMA mobile app or call 800-621-3362. The line is open every day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Help is available in most languages.

Malique Rankin is a general assignment reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. You can email her story ideas at mrankin@10tampabay.com and follow her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

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