SBA providing assistance for victims of Berkeley fire

December 15, 2011 11:51:49 AM PST
Help has arrived for victims of this devastating fire at a Berkeley building last month. Federal workers are there right now offering aid to burned-out residents and businesses, now that Telegraph Avenue is officially a federal disaster zone.

The fire not only did an incredible amount of physical damage, it also destroyed the foot traffic that usually comes through the neighborhood.

"For three weeks, which meant people from the north side couldn't get to the south side and the south side couldn't get to the north, so everybody's business went down on this street by at least 50 percent. Our business was a little worse because we were actually at the last point you could walk south and then you had to walk back north to get around" said Telegraph Merchants Association Chairman Al Geyer.

The federal government is now stepping into provide the help the city of Berkeley just couldn't offer.

"There is no city program that could provide assistance. Two additional businesses are closed and we don't know how long that will be, because of damage to the building. So it will have a considerable effect on the business district," said Dave Fogarty of the Berkeley Economic Development Office.

The U.S. Small Business Association has opened a store front today on Telegraph Avenue, offering a place where merchants can apply for help.

"The SBA is offering low interest disaster loans to homeowners, renters as well as small businesses and non-profit organizations who were impacted by the disaster," said SBA spokesman Ben Raju.

Some businesses could qualify for a loan of up to $2 million.

"It's hard to recover from being down 50 percent for three weeks, but it will be helpful to get a loan at fair interest for 30 years. That will help a lot of businesses I'm sure," said Geyer.

Officials think this fire started because of an electrical malfunction in an apartment building.

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