August 17, 2004 -- As millions of Floridians began digging out from one of the worst hurricanes in state history, the Small Business Administration dispatched loan officers to help companies in the hardest-hit areas.

Hurricane Charley, which has claimed at least 16 lives, left an estimated $15 billion in damages in its wake over the weekend. With thousands of homes and businesses now in ruin, the SBA will begin making low-interest recovery loans available.

"We will be swift in our efforts, along with our partners at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to help people rebuild their lives," SBA Administrator Hector Barreto said in a statement.

Along with FEMA, the SBA oversees most disaster-related loans for both homeowners and businesses. Loans up to $1.5 million are available for businesses and non-profit organizations to help repair facilities, equipment, and inventory. Economic Injury Disaster Loans are also available to small businesses that are unable to pay bills or meet operating expenses in the aftermath of a storm. Interest rates can run as low as 2.9 percent with terms up to 30 years, according to the SBA.

Although FEMA has already established disaster centers in Florida, the agency has come under scrutiny in recent months because it is now part of the Department of Homeland Security, with some critics saying that the ability to handle natural disasters has been compromised by a focus on terrorism. Cleaning up Charley is expected to be a big test for FEMA, particularly in a battleground state during an election year.

This weekend's storm was the strongest to hit the Sunshine State since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, considered the most costly natural disaster in American history. More than 40 people were killed and losses were estimated at $30 billion, decimating much of the local economy in and around South Florida.


  • To be considered for disaster assistance, victims must contact FEMA at 1-800-621-3362