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Malibuites from all walks of life gathered at the Malibu courthouse Saturday, Nov. 17, seeking answers and resources in the wake of the devastating Woolsey Fire.
It was the first day for the Los Angeles County Disaster Assistance Center, which will reopen from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19-Wednesday, Nov. 21, then reopen again from 10 a.m.-6 pm. Friday, Nov. 23-Saturday, Nov. 24. Further hours and days are to be determined.
The event featured information booths staffed by representatives of area state and county agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Small Business Administration and nonprofit organizations, all providing resources to help attendees begin again.
“It’s at least a point in the right direction and it’s a good first step,” attendee Sharine Metzler said.
Her husband, Rick Metzler, agreed.
“I’m glad to hear that the center will be here for awhile,” he said. “Everything is changing in a fluid way and it’s good to know this center will be here as the situation evolves.”
Reva Feldman, Malibu city manager, explained what the center is all about.
“The county has organized this resource, and it is a place where residents are able to get assistance from many sources,” she said.
Those who have lost a passport, driver’s license, deed, marriage or birth certificate can get replacements within a few days.
Representatives at the center also outlines steps for those returning to a home or business.
First, be safe, and protect your lungs from wildfire smoke. To do so, one should use a disposable respirator to ensure that particulates in the air do not get into one’s lungs. The California Department of Public Health advises that one should choose a mask labelled “N95” or “P100” with two straps that go around the back of one’s head. The center is distributing N95 disposable particulate respirators. Call (800) 963-9424 with questions.
When returning home, look for hazards including sharp objects such as nails, metal, concrete or wood debris, unstable structures, damaged or fallen power lines, propane cylinders, gas cans and BBQ appliances with propane tanks. The Los Angeles County Fire Department Health Hazardous Materials Division has an information booth at the center and advises people to wear personal protective equipment, including protective clothing (at a minimum, long sleeve shirts, long pants, garden or leather gloves and boots or shoes with thick soles), as well as safety glasses or goggles. For more information, visit the center, call the division at (323) 890-4000, Monday through Friday, or see www.cdc.gov/features/wildfires.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection also is hosting a booth. The agency emphasized that tree, brush and rocks may be weakened or loosened by fire, and that loose tree limbs or rocks can fall.
Residents also must clean up ash. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Health, ash may be irritating to the skin, nose and throat. As one cleans up, they should gently sweep up ashes and then use wet mopping and, if necessary, use a solution of bleach and water. Collected ash should be placed in an enclosed bag before disposing it into a trash bin. For more information, visit www.publichealth.lacounty.gov.
A refrigerator in a home that has experienced a power outage is not a pretty picture. Officials advise following a “when in doubt, throw it out” policy and emphasize that one should not refreeze thawed food. When disposing of spoiled food, double-bagging is advised to prevent fly breeding. For more information, call the LA County Department of Public Health at (888) 700-9995.
Residents also may have to deal with figuring out how to dispose of compromised household hazardous waste, a term that encompasses everything from electronic devices (TVs, stereos, microwaves, computers) to nail polish, paint, pool chemicals, fertilizers and some medicines. Such materials should be brought to 23519 West Civic Center Way in Malibu between 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 1.
Area landfills accepting waste include Calabasas Landfill (www.lacsd.org/about/solid_waste_facilities/default.asp), Canyon Landfill in Sylmar (sunshinecanyonlandfill.com) and Chiquita Canyon Landfill (chiquitacanyonlandfill.com).
Officials advise against personally disposing of fire debris until waste haulers resume commercial trash collection services. Contact information for such providers are: Waste Management, (800) 266-7551, WM.com; and Universal Waste Systems, (800) 631-7016, UWScompany.com.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department has a booth at the center and wants citizens to know it will be inspecting properties to assess the presence of hazardous chemicals.
“We will go out to all damaged properties to assess the materials on site sometime in the next couple weeks,” said Fernando Florez, assistant chief of health hazardous materials.
For more information on the removal of hazardous waste, call the LAFD’s Health Hazardous Material Division at (323) 890-4000, open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Malibuites affected by the fire are encouraged to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will be at the center for at least two weeks, according to Darrell Habisch, FEMA external affairs officer. For details on FEMA’s role in the recovery process, visit https://drive.google.com/file/d/1vKBRUBBeueEq-oWwAn6eKjz64WioRRwh/view.
One can check their eligibility for FEMA disaster assistance by applying online at disasterassistance.gov or by calling (800) 621-3362.
“If your home is partially affected by the fire and you qualify for our programs, FEMA can help you make basic repairs to ensure that your home is safe, secure and sanitary,” Habisch said. “Everyone deserves a roof over his head and we can help you set up while you rebuild and, although it may not be the ideal home that you had, it helps with the beginning of the process.”
Representatives from the State Board of Equalization are also at the center, offering residents an opportunity to seek a modification in tax assessments due to fire damage. The Contractors State License Board, which assists those who are rebuilding to ensure that contractors are in proper licensure status, also is present, and the California Department of Insurance, which assists citizens who think their insurance claims are not being properly administered, is there as well.
Nonprofit organizations are also reaching out to those in need of support. Representatives from the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the Buddhist Tzu Foundation are hosting information booths at the center.
“We offer support for fire victims in four areas: charity, medical, education, and humanity and culture,” said Susan Liu, emergency disaster relief coordinator of the Tzu Chi Foundation.
For more information, call (909) 447-7799 or visit www.us.tzuchi.org.
Information on crisis housing, food stamps, medical assistance, disaster unemployment assistance and more also are available.
Rebuilding, regrouping and rebooting are all tasks that will require resilience. The center is helping Malibuites with access to all the resources they need to start those processes.