Federal Disaster Relief Center opens in San Mateo County

The recently renovated Cypress Hall at the San Mateo County Event Center can hold more than 1,000 guests. But only a small fraction of that number came Thursday for the opening of the federal Disaster Recovery Center.

"It’s always good to have opportunities and resources. And if you don’t, you’re kind of screwed up," said county resident Geoff Allen.

The hall had tables set up for residents who were seeking assistance from the state, county, non-profits, and the federal government.

"This is a one-stop shop for survivors to come and see what resources might be available to them after the severe storms," said Tiana Suber, a spokeswoman with the Federal Emergency Management Administration, or FEMA.

Starting New Year’s Eve, days and weeks of rain and wind left thousands of San Mateo County residents with some type of storm damage – to their homes or businesses.

"Some people, this is their very first disaster. They're totally devastated from a heavy loss. So they don’t know what to look for, what to ask for," said Suber. "We’re able to direct them in the right direction."

County resident Paul Rollandi said rain and wind blew over a retaining wall, and damaged his pool house. He has a weeks-old insurance claim pending but decided to come to the Disaster Recovery Center Thursday morning, just in case.

"I don’t want to end up waiting three more weeks to find out, ‘nah, we’re not going to cover this.’ And then say oh jeez, what are we going to do now," said Rollandi.

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Federal officials said FEMA can pay rent, utilities, childcare, transportation and utility costs, and that the Small Business Administration offers low-interest loans.

"We encourage them to complete the application and make sure they know what their full options are for recovery. And really take advantage of what’s available," said Louise Porter, a spokeswoman for the SBA Office of Recovery & Resilience.

Officials concede this is a lengthy process, and there are no quick fixes. But those in need of help said it’s reassuring to see government on so many levels standing shoulder-to-shoulder after a crisis.

"The fact that they’re here and trying to help, that’s good," said Allen.

The center is open every day, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s slated to close on Feb. 22., but officials said that date can be extended if there’s an overwhelming demand for its continuation.

Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter, @JesseKTVU and Instagram, @jessegontv