When Judy Seielstad finished inspecting her earthquake-ravaged dance studio in Alhambra, she "felt like I had lost my best friend."
"I've never been through this before," Seielstad said this week while waiting to make an appointment at the federal Emergency Application Center in Alhambra, one of seven in Los Angeles County where victims of the 6.1-magnitude quake on Oct. 1 and its aftershocks can apply for federal and state disaster aid. "I don't know which way to go."
Meanwhile, less than five miles away, at the Rosemead application center, 78-year-old Emilio Acosta passed around photographs of the wooden supports he had built to help steady the walls of his severely damaged Rosemead home.
"Without those supports, you could move the walls just by pushing on them with your hands," Acosta said.
Like hundreds of other San Gabriel Valley residents, Seielstad and Acosta went to the centers, which opened Sunday morning, to get information they need to begin rebuilding their homes, their businesses and their lives.
In the first three days, the Alhambra and Rosemead centers processed 995 applications.
Margie Tiritilli, a public information officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which operates the centers, said she is not certain how long they will be open. But even after they close, she said, information on disaster aid will be available at regular government offices or by telephone "as long as it's needed."
"We are still trying to get the word out that help is available" at the centers, Tiritilli said.
At the centers, applicants fill out a registration form, describing the assistance they need. Then they are directed to representatives of 13 federal, state and local agencies who provide information on emergency housing, small-business loans, individual and family grants, taxes, legal affairs, Social Security, building and safety, consumer affairs, insurance, mental health and Red Cross assistance.
Advice on Taxes
Tax advice is one of the services most frequently sought at the Rosemead and Alhambra centers as people try to assess the damage and expedite next year's tax refunds, Tiritilli said.
Many also seek information on home and business loans. The federal Small Business Administration is taking applications for loans up to $120,000 for home repair and personal loss and up to $5,000 for businesses, she said.
Despite bleak prospects of saving the home he and his family have lived in for nearly 40 years, Acosta is trying to be optimistic.
"The future doesn't look good," he said. "But I'll have to do my best with the few years I have left."
"They tell me the house will have to be destroyed," said Acosta, who is waiting for a report from a building inspector and has received information on a homeowner's loan. "Every room was damaged."
The east wall, which Acosta braced with wooden beams, was hit the hardest, he said.
Acosta is determined to stay in his neighborhood and rebuild. "If you lived in a home for 40 years, would you leave?" he asked. "If you raised seven children here and you knew all the neighbors, would you leave?"
Not all of those seeking help at the centers were so sure of their future plans.
Uncertain of Future
"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Seielstad, owner of the June Nichol's Dance Studio in Alhambra.
Seielstad, whose 6,100-square-foot studio on Main Street has cracks that run the length of the 80-year-old building, has closed the business until she can find a temporary location to resume her lessons.
"I have looked almost everywhere," she said. "I'm trying to find a place to go that is large enough and doesn't have a cement floor."
She has talked with three real estate agents, several churches, clubs and city agencies, but has had no luck.
"I need to do something quickly or I'll lose my business," said Seielstad, who taught dance to 30 to 40 students a day.
Seielstad took over the business in 1984 from her mother, June Nichols, who started it 30 years ago.
"The building is still standing," Seielstad said. "But I'm waiting to see whether the building needs to be repaired or come down.
"It's hard to deal with the unknown," said Seielstad, who has an appointment today at the Emergency Application Center to receive information on how to apply for a loan. "My life is still in sort of a chaos."
'Quakes Don't Bother Us'
According to Angela Ciccone, an employee of the Contractors' State License Board, which is checking out building contractors and steering earthquake victims to those who are reputable, "We work with people who are distraught a lot."
Maria and Raymond Rios, whose tax and bookkeeping business was closed after the earthquake, tried to take the stress in stride.
"We're Californians; earthquakes don't bother us," Maria Rios said while waiting for her number to be called at the Rosemead center.