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'People are really hurting': FEMA searches for flood victims needing assistance

Five federal crews spread out across the St. Louis area, walking some of the hardest-hit flood victims, like Alphonso Chappelle, through an assistance application.

UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. — Bright orange condemnation signs stick to the front doors of nearly every building along the 6300 block of Cabanne Avenue in University City, a concentration of flood damage that made it among FEMA's first priorities.

"I’ve never been through this. Nobody I know [has] actually. We see it a lot on TV, but to experience it first hand is kind of weird," University City renter Alphonso Chappelle said.

Federal disaster crews spread out across the St. Louis area Wednesday morning, surveying recent flood damage and walking the hardest-hit residents -- like Chappelle -- through the assistance application.

Chappelle says he woke up one July morning to a neighbor's call telling him that his car was floating down the street. He first saw his own car float in the water before a dumpster came into view, twisting and turning as it was carried along by the floods.

"It was kind of traumatizing, I want to say," Chappelle remembers. "I was watching what was going on, and a lot of the neighbors were in the windows. One more lady was praying, praying off the bad weather, which that’s how I was taught."

Chappelle's car is a total loss, as are many of the items in his flooded basement including a washer and dryer. Everything he can salvage is stacked in a corner after his family helped him clean up.

He was one of the few people at home when the FEMA workers came knocking on doors. 

"We will try to start in the hardest hit neighborhoods first and then work from there our way out from there. The goal is to talk to as many people as possible," FEMA's John Mills said.

Mills says many of the residents they spoke with have already applied for FEMA assistance. When that happens, workers are able to check the application status on their iPads.

"A lot of people are really hurting, and talking to someone can help people begin their recovery," he said of the worker's third role: emotional support.

Chappelle said he appreciated the one-on-one help, happy for the nights he will sleep through the night -- uninterrupted by floods and the stress of cleanup.

"[I had] a few sleepless nights, but I slept pretty good last night. Finally," he said.

Flooding victims are asked to call the United Way at 211 for help and to apply for Individual Assistance through FEMA.  

To apply for FEMA aid, go to www.DisasterAssistance.gov or call FEMA’s toll-free application line at 1-800-621-3362 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Central Time, seven days a week.

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