Thousands of Los Angeles area residents converged on seven federal earthquake relief centers which opened their doors for the first time Sunday morning.
Some arrived as early as 6 a.m., only to endure long lines and unexpected rain showers.
The centers, which will remain open "until the crowds diminish," were set up to provide federal and state disaster aid information to those hardest hit by the 6.1 temblor of Oct. 1, a federal spokesman said.
Plenty of Response
"We had a report that there were 10,000 homes or businesses damaged or destroyed, so I think we were prepared for a lot of people," said Margie Tiritilli, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Emergency Services. "We kind of figured Whittier would be bombarded."
She was right.
Long lines were the rule in hard-hit Whittier, where nearly 1,000 people were turned away Sunday, but not before they were given appointments for later in the week, said Tom Mullins, another spokesman for the state office. The situation at the center in Alhambra was much the same, officials there said.
But other centers reported periods of light turnouts, so many who stood waiting in Whittier and Alhambra were encouraged to try the other offices.
"While there was a long line in Whittier, there was no line in La Habra (the Orange County center), a 15-minute drive away," Mullins said.
By late in the day, government representatives had processed 598 applications and set up 1,867 appointments, he said.
Some quake victims, like Stella and Leo Franco, arrived at the makeshift Whittier office in the badly damaged Quad Mall at about 6 a.m., hoping to be "the first to get in the door."
Some Before Them
However, more than 20 people had arrived before them, so the couple did not begin to wade through the red tape and paper work until close to noon.
Still, the Francos said they were grateful for the help they received.
"We got the information that we needed to get. Now we just hope we can get the house fixed," Leo Franco said.
After talking to several officials, it appeared the Francos qualified for a federal family grant, which should pay for at least part of the cost of repairing their collapsed front porch and the 20-foot hole torn in the front of their wood-frame house.
Federal grants are given to disaster victims who are unable to meet their expenses or pay back a loan. The program is aimed at those who were not insured or do not have sufficient credit to cover the cost of repairing quake damage, Mullins said.
Types of Assistance
Among the services most frequently sought were temporary housing, Small Business Administration low-interest loans and individual family grants, he said.
None of the thousands who appeared at the seven relief centers--other locations included Rosemead, Huntington Park, Silver Lake and East Los Angeles--actually received financial assistance on Sunday.
"They won't walk away with any money after they've been here, but hopefully they'll walk away with a better understanding of what assistance is available," said Dale Keller, of the federal Emergency Management Agency.
Mostly, people left with an armful of application forms to shuffle through and complete. Those seeking aid have up to 60 days to file the applications. And the process of reimbursement from the government could take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months, officials said.
Besides providing information to help begin the massive rebuilding process, the centers provided a place where many still-visibly shaken quake victims could meet and commiserate.
Just after the temblor hit her Whittier home, Diana Carl told her son that she knew she was supposed to do something, but she wasn't sure what.
On Sunday, days after the initial shock, she still had not assessed all the damage to her house, but decided to head for the nearest emergency relief office.
Carl, a middle-aged single mother, said she was not sure what to do when she got to the center until a Small Business Administration representative patiently explained the steps to the shaky, tearful woman.
When a brief but thunderous rain shower drenched those waiting outside the Whittier center, Carl said the thunderclap sent her running to the nearest doorway.
"My nerves are shot," she said, her voice catching as she thought of the earthquake. "That storm scared the heck out of me. Actually, whenever I hear anything that drops or makes a loud noise, I think it's starting all over again."
Less nervous, but frustrated over having to take time off from the repair of his two-story brick building in East Los Angeles, Michael A. Fradkin sat in the foyer of the Hollenbeck Recreation Center, waiting to find out how much money he could borrow.
The building, which has housed his shoe leather wholesale business since 1957, suffered $300,000 to $400,000 worth of damage from the temblor and aftershocks, he said.