The Federal Emergency Management Agency is requesting that homeowners, renters and business owners in the counties affected by Hurricane Alex contact that agency to apply for assistance, according to Texas emergency management officials.

"The people affected by Hurricane Alex and the Rio Grande flooding can apply for assistance in several ways, including online and by phone," said Ben Patterson, the newly appointed state coordinating officer for the Texas Department of Emergency Management. "It is important for people who feel that they may qualify for assistance to call 1-800-621-3362."

Patterson added there is also a Text Telephone or TTY contact number for FEMA assistance for the hard of hearing, 1-800-462-7585 .

According to FEMA, the counties declared federal disaster areas due to Hurricane Alex to date are Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Maverick, Starr, Val Verde, Webb and Zapata.

"It is really important that people invest the time to make the call to FEMA or apply for assistance from the agency online for their home," said Dr. Andy Vestal, director of emergency management programs for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. "In some instances it may be hard to tell just what damage there is and what may not be covered by insurance, so taking the time to apply after contacting your insurance company may help move things along once flood waters subside."

"A lot of people have been affected in this county and in neighboring counties," said Yolanda Morado, AgriLife Extension Service agent for family and consumer sciences in Starr County. "It's good to know that FEMA has ways these people can get in touch with them to apply for assistance."

However, Morado added, many people in the affected counties have additional challenges toward applying for assistance due to language, technology and transportation issues.

To help overcome these issues, FEMA has produced fact sheets in both English and Spanish on the type of disaster assistance available and how to apply online at http://www.disasterassistance.gov.

The phone registration line will be operating from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Central Daylight Time seven days a week until otherwise determined, and calls will be answered in the order received, according to FEMA materials. The application fact sheet indicates it will take about 15 minutes for the application process and that only one family member per household should apply.

FEMA materials also note potential applicants should have certain information on hand before making contact, including the social security numbers of the caller and spouse, daytime phone number, address of the damaged property, mailing address, brief description of disaster loss or damage, insurance information and direct deposit information.

The agency also requests that those seeking assistance first contact their insurance companies prior to applying for assistance through FEMA in order to help speed up delivery of assistance for any uninsured items for which they may be eligible.

More information on recovering from a disaster is available at the Texas Extension Disaster Education Network website at http://texashelp.tamu.edu/.