People of the flood: Hurdles remain for obtaining disaster assistance

LOVELAND – Kevin Wynne steps out of his rented white SUV, dressed in an oxford shirt and khaki pants. As he walks, he puts on a bright blue jacket, the letters “SBA” stamped in yellow on the back.

He slips his cell phone into the pocket of his coat, adjusts his rimless glasses and walks into the Disaster Assistance Center in Loveland.

Wynne, a public information officer for the U.S. Small Business Administration, is visiting Colorado in the midst of a natural disaster for the third time in six years. He was on hand for the Windsor tornado of 2008, the High Park Fire of 2012 and now the Great Flood of 2013.

A veteran of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and the Joplin tornado in Missouri, Wynne’s job is to see that SBA assistance rolls out quickly and effectively in communities where trauma and chaos suddenly have become the norm.

“When something is declared a presidential disaster, you know it’s just horrendous,” Wynne said. “We call these types of disasters ‘CNN disasters.’ “

The September flood was officially declared a presidential disaster on Sept. 20, 11 days after heavy rains began blanketing Northern Colorado.

According to the Larimer County Assessor’s office, of the 600 buildings that have been inspected since the flood, 80 have sustained major damage and are considered “destroyed,” and 250 have sustained minor to moderate damage. More than 30 businesses have reported flood damage.

To help, 12 Disaster Assistance Centers have been established throughout affected areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the SBA. Flood victims have been encouraged to register with FEMA to determine if they qualify for an SBA Disaster Assistance Loan.

“There has been significant economic injury with business and a reduction in revenue due to the flood,” Wynne said. “We’re here to help homeowners and business owners take advantage of the recovery process and to get long-term assistance.”

As of Oct. 15, the SBA had approved $23.2 million in disaster loans to help Colorado residents and businesses recover from the severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides. More than 522 homeowners and renters have received $20.4 million in disaster loans, while 47 businesses have been approved to receive $2.8 million in business assistance. Wynne expects that number to continue rising, reaching $100 million to $200 million statewide as businesses continue to tally their losses.

David Jessup, owner of Sylvan Dale Ranch in Loveland, has applied for help.

Sylvan Dale sustained a significant amount of damage as a result of the floodwaters. Many of the ranch’s buildings were damaged and one was destroyed. As the waters rose, the gravel road leading from U.S. Highway 34 to the ranch was entirely washed away.

Jessup immediately registered with FEMA and was referred to the SBA for a Disaster Assistance Loan.

“After we applied, the SBA sent out an inspector to physically inspect the damage and make a list and get measurements of buildings that were destroyed, equipment, furniture and inventory lost,” Jessup said.

The assessor calculated the damage at $2.6 million. The maximum amount for a SBA Disaster Assistance Loan is $2 million. He hopes to make up the difference with donations and may reduce the number of buildings that get reconstructed. Jessup expects it to take months for that money to come in; he is working with a loan officer.

“They’re very precise and exact and have been responsive from the initial meeting to this current process,” he said. “We know they’ve been pushing it along as fast as possible.”

Not every business owner is having luck applying for disaster assistance.

Kristi and Anthony Lehnert, owners of Colorado Cherry Company, have two stores that have been cut off and, as a result, shut down because of the flooding. The company is a fourth-generation family enterprise and they’re working hard to save it. They have tried multiple times to get the SBA up to both stores. But roads remain closed and the SBA has declined to make the site visits. Without that step, the Lehnerts cannot move forward with their loan applications.

“Our biggest problem is it’s not exactly easy breezy to get to our stores. You have to walk less than a mile to get to our Lyons store from the road. They are unwilling to do that,” Kristi said. “Until the roads are completely open, they are unwilling to go further with the application.”

Although floodwaters surged through both towns, uprooting trees, splintering buildings and houses and washing away roads, both Colorado Cherry Company stores remain intact, with minimal flood damage.

“Both stores would be easy to open and do business if there were roads,” she said.

While road construction is under way, the Lehnerts are losing more money. They may have to file for bankruptcy, and both are looking to find other jobs to carry them through until they can reopen. Their frustration with the SBA continues to rise.

“We were told that (an official) has to be able to drive to the location for an inspection,” Kristi said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the roads are closed. That’s why I’m not open for business.”

With the flooding a month past, visitors to the assistance centers are dwindling. According to an SBA representative at the Loveland center, 80 people a day were coming through the doors. Now that number has dropped to less than 40.

“We will be here to stay and assist people until the needs of the community have been met,” Wynne said.

Each time he visits a disaster site, Wynne said, he is struck by how victims respond and cope.

“Seeing disaster after disaster, you kind of get used to it – but you don’t get used to people’s stories,” he said. “One minute you can be making spaghetti, and the next you have nothing.”

He noted that people registering for FEMA or applying for an SBA loan often are depressed, distraught and lethargic. They are more concerned with getting their lives back together than anything else and look to agencies such as Wynne’s for help.

“It changes people when they go through a life-wrenching experience,” he said. “They suddenly have no home to go to, no car, nothing. That’s how quick it can happen. They come out of it a different person.”

To get help

Individuals affected by the flood seeking assistance can register with FEMA online at, at a Disaster Assistance Center or by calling 800-621-3362.

If an individual qualifies, he or she will be referred to the U.S. Small Business Administration to apply for a Disaster Assistance Loan. The SBA application process takes into consideration repayment ability, credit worthiness and collateral to determine eligibility. The electronic application will submit in real time, and a loss verifier should make contact within 24 hours.

To determine the extent of damages suffered, a loan officer will make contact within two to three days to inspect the property. An assessment will be made of total monetary damages incurred. The loan officer will request additional documents to determine loan eligibility and processing within seven days.

Depending on the situation, the applicant may be required to purchase additional insurance before the process can continue. In this case flood insurance or hazard insurance could be required.

The SBA offers low-interest disaster loans to homeowners, renters, businesses and private, nonprofit organizations.

The first deadline to file for an SBA Disaster Assistance Loan is Nov. 14.


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