TOWANDA - So far, approximately 400 flood victims have visited the Disaster Recovery Center in Towanda, a FEMA official said.

An array of government agencies are at the center, which was opened last Wednesday in the Towanda Fire Hall to assist people and businesses in various ways that have been impacted by Tropical Storm Lee, such as helping them obtain federal grants to repair their homes, assisting them in obtaining grants and low-interest loans to replace possessions destroyed in the flood, and providing them with information on the steps they need to take to physically repair their home or business.

In addition, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department has a representative at the Disaster Recovery Center to assist people who are having problems with their insurance company.

"A lot of times in situations like this, insurance companies will drag their feet," said Jerry Kiltz, the FEMA manager at the center.

In addition, the Salvation Army has been setting up a canteen at the center to provide free meals to flood victims, he said. Free clean-up kits and personal hygiene kits are also being distributed to flood victims at the center, and crisis counseling is available on site, which is provided by employees of the state hospital system.

The center, which is intended to be a "one-stop shop" for obtaining assistance, is located at 101 Elm St. in Towanda and is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days per week, until further notice, Kiltz said.

Among the other agencies and organizations that have representatives at the Disaster Recovery Center are FEMA, PEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the state Department of Transportation, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, and the Social Security Administration.

The first thing flood victims should do - preferably before they visit the center - is register with FEMA by calling 1-800-621-3362, or by going to http://www.disasterassistance.gov, Kiltz said.

"We strongly urge everyone to register with FEMA" who will be seeking financial assistance from any agency due to the flooding, said Mark Arrowsmith, a public affairs specialist with the Small Business Administration. "That way you will be in the system" and it will help you get steered toward "all possible help that would be coming your way," he said.

Registering with FEMA "will open the door to a variety of federal disaster relief programs designed to aid in the recovery process," according to the written information issued by the Small Business Administration.

While you can register with FEMA using a telephone at the Disaster Recovery Center, you are better off registering before you before you arrive at the center, officials said. That's because it will typically take 15 to 30 minutes to register with FEMA, and you may want to do that "from the comfort of their home," Kiltz said.

"Disaster officials recommend that you register before visiting a center so if you have any questions about the application process they can be answered face to face" at the center, according to a press release from U.S. Rep. Tom Marino's office.

Homeowners are also required to register with FEMA in order to be eligible for financial assistance through the organization.

FEMA provides grants to homeowners to repair their homes from flood damage, to replace possessions lost in the flooding, and for other purposes, such as addressing flooded septic systems.

For flooded private water wells, there is federal grant money available "to clean them out and test the water," Kiltz said.

The state of Pennsylvania also provides financial assistance, often in the form of a grant, to assist residents with medical issues, such as medication or glasses that were lost in the flooding, he said.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is providing low-interest loans not only to businesses impacted by the flooding, but to homeowners and people who rent their residences, Arrowsmith said.

Homeowners could be eligible for an SBA loan of up to $200,000 to repair their homes, as well as loans of up to $40,000 to replace possessions, including automobiles, he said.

Renters may also be eligible for a loan of up to $40,000 to replace possessions, including autos, he said.

Businesses of any size may be eligible for an SBA loan of up to $2 million to repair or replace buildings, machinery, equipment, inventories or supplies, he said.

In addition, small businesses can apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the SBA to meet their "ordinary and necessary financial obligations that cannot be met as a result of the disaster," including meeting their payrolls, he said.

FEMA also has a "mitigation group" at the Towanda Disaster Recovery Center to advise residents on the steps they need to take to address the flood damage to their home, such as tearing out parts of their walls, Kiltz said. The mitigation group can also advise people on the steps they should take to minimize future flood damage.

The representatives from Attorney General's Office can provide direction to residents who suspect that they have been swindled by contractors after the flooding, Kiltz said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is providing free tetanus shots at the center. It is advised that people get a tetanus shot before they start flood cleanup work, Kiltz said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com