A $10,000 disaster assistance loan that was approved Monday by the Small Business Administration will help Jeffrey and Darilynn Chierichetti trade wet rugs for dry and repair the waterlogged oak floors left in their Simi Valley house after February's floods.
"I don't know if you've ever smelled wet rug," said Jeffrey Chierichetti, among the first of more than 1,000 flood-stricken Southern California residents and businesses expected to receive the low-interest loans from the SBA.
With less than a month left before the April 27 filing deadline, the SBA has received more than 2,100 requests for applications for the loans, officials said. Of those, 520 have been filed, and 66 loans totaling $1.25 million have been approved.
Robert L. Belloni, who directs the disaster-assistance program for 14 Western states, predicted that $25 million to $26 million will be loaned to homeowners, renters and businesses hurt by the floods.
While that is relatively small as federal disasters go, he said, Monday's first checks were greeted as lifesavers by 14 families who came to the SBA's disaster assistance headquarters in Glendale from as far away as Oxnard and Lake Hughes to receive the checks from SBA Regional Administrator Oscar Wright.
Chierichetti said he and his family have been "living on concrete slabs" since the rain forced underground water sources to rise and seep through the house's cracked foundation.
"We had to trench around the house and pumped about 800 gallons of water when it wasn't raining, and about 120,000 gallons per day when it rained," said Darilynn Chierichetti. "We turned off the pump to see if we could save some electricity . . . but the table quickly rose about two feet."
The couple's 18-month-old son, Joey, fell in the front room, hit his head and suffered a concussion. Their daughter, Kimberly, 5, fell in a trench outside, cut herself and needed "three little stitches," said Darilynn.
"We figure our luck's due to change," she said.
The Chierichettis are due to get another $7,200 SBA loan after they have used 80% of the first loan, he said.
Other recipients said they were surprised at how easy it was to get help.
"You hardly find this in government," said George Annino, a retired restaurateur whose Agoura home was flooded when winds blew off part of the roof. "They wanted to know, 'Is there any more we can do for you?' "
The loans, ranging from $3,500 to $76,000, will allow property owners to fix their buildings and pay the money back over periods of up to 30 years, at 4% or 8% interest--the higher rate for wealthier applicants.
James and Sandra McGarry of Simi Valley said they will use their $12,000 loan to build a retaining wall to keep the large earthen slope bordering their back yard from turning to mud and sliding into the yard, as a five-foot-tall section did during the heavy rains.
"There is very little vegetation on the hill because a new weed abatement person from the Fire Department demanded we remove it two years ago, claiming it was a fire hazard," said Sandra McGarry.
A soil engineer told the couple that it would cost $100,000 to permanently fix the slope, she said. "You always want more money, but this will help things. We will use it the best we can."
The SBA probably will wind up approving about 70% of the loan requests, according to Belloni, with most of the rejections due to the applicants' inability to repay.
Homeowners are eligible to receive up to $100,000 for damage to a dwelling or landscaping and $20,000 for contents. Renters can get loans of up to $20,000, for damage to contents.
Businesses can receive up to $500,000, at 4% interest, to cover not only physical damage but loss of income that can be attributed to flooding. Applications for such Economic Injury Disaster Loans can be filed until Nov. 25.
Times staff writer Collin Nash contributed to this report.