Central Florida’s recovery process began this week with elected property appraisers in Orange, Seminole, Lake and Osceola counties beginning to tally damage estimates that help determine federal aid efforts.

“We’ve got about 64 staff members going through the county looking at damage and, essentially, putting a dollar figure on the damage,” said Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, who toured damage Tuesday, including the flooded streets of Orlo Vista.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said they have seen aid from past catastrophes begin to arrive in as little as a few days or as long as a few weeks. With counties throughout Florida seeking federal assistance on the heels of historic flooding in southeast Texas, federal relief could take longer than it has in the past.

The speed and amount of federal aid that comes to Central Florida depends on everything from the amount of debris that gets carted away to how well counties prepared for the event, which hit Central Florida with hurricane-force winds early Monday. What was uncertain Tuesday was whether Orange, Lake, Seminole or Osceola counties would become eligible for FEMA’s “individual assistance,” which gives survivors timely access to programs, including unemployment assistance and housing assistance.

By Tuesday, FEMA had approved 16 counties — mostly coastal — for the assistance. The agency weighs damage amounts, insurance coverage, homes impacted and inaccessible communities in determining eligibility.

Orange County began the work over the weekend to get in the pipeline for federal aid, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said on Tuesday. A challenge, she added, was that the federal government had earmarked certain counties that were expected to be impacted but didn’t anticipate that Central Florida would suffer significant damages. The county is working with the state to ensure the county is included, she said.

A man covering his shoes with plastic bags rides his bicycle through a flooded neighborhood in Orlo Vista the day after Hurricane Irma swept through Central Florida.
A man covering his shoes with plastic bags rides his bicycle through a flooded neighborhood in Orlo Vista the day after Hurricane Irma swept through Central Florida. Aileen Perilla / Orlando Sentinel

To tally damages, property appraisers Tuesday headed to Central Florida homes and businesses that had reported damage to building officials or 911. After reviewing more than 1,900 properties in Orange, Singh estimated $24.86 million in damages. Lake County Property Appraiser Carey Baker estimated $8.5 million of damage. Seminole and Osceola were still in the process of reporting.

Southwest of downtown Orlando, appraisers drove a sports utility vehicle through flooded streets of Orlando Vista, where a handful of residents waded through waters about knee high. Singh estimated about 20 to 30 homes there showed signs of flood damage. Waters had receded on other houses, but roads were largely impassable. Law enforcement and firefighters used drones and inflated rafts to scout the neighborhood, filled with one-story houses built in the 1950s and 1960s. The property appraiser estimated home values at $70,000 to $80,000 for those properties.

Elsewhere in Orange, trees toppled onto fences and streets, but an early survey of damage showed few houses crushed by fallen trees. Sheathed roofs were pulled off of framing and trusses at a few houses, even as neighboring homes lost only a few shingles.

“About 12:30 in the morning, that entire roof ripped off to the plywood,” said Henry Taylor, who lives in a south Orlando house his parents purchased in the 1970s. His backyard was a mangled pile of roofing material.

For lower-income areas where homes are more likely to lack insurance, recovery is likely to rest on federal aid. Property owners who apply for help from FEMA are expected to hear from the agency within 10 days to schedule an inspection that will determine the extent of damage

In general, assessment teams tabulate two levels of damage — one for public property, such as bridges, schools, road and parks, and a second for homes and businesses that may qualify for individual assistance.

Florida counties that had been added to FEMA’s “individual assistance” by Tuesday afternoon included: Broward, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Palm Beach, Putnam, St. Johns, Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

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