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One month after the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Northeastern coastline, the federal government has approved more than $156.56 million in low-interest disaster loans to 2,507 homeowners, renters and businesses in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Many of those victims have at least communicated with the U.S. Small Business Administration's national Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center in downtown Buffalo as they apply for help.

The facility, at 130 S. Elmwood Ave., handles the first phone calls or online requests for help from victims of natural disasters nationwide. It had begun ramping up its staff to handle the call volume even as the storm's winds and rains were still battering New York City five weeks ago.

Currently, the operation has 146 employees, all Western New Yorkers, and is open seven days a week. As of Monday, the Buffalo call center was receiving about 3,500 calls and about 30 emails per day from Sandy victims and has responded to more than 77,000 calls and 1,500 emails in all.

"I anticipate being busy for the next several months, as more and more loans are approved and our customers avail themselves of our services," said William E. Leggiero Jr., the Buffalo facility's director. He said "a huge number of our calls" come from victims asking how to apply for help, while others call after they have applied or while they are filling out the application.

The loan applications are processed, approved and funded by the Disaster Processing & Disbursement Center in Fort Worth, Texas. The SBA also has two disaster field offices, in Atlanta and Sacramento, Calif., that deploy staff to disaster areas. It now has 377 employees working to help storm victims in 113 disaster recovery and business recovery centers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Victims in those states have until Jan. 28 to apply for loans for physical property damage. Applicants for economic injury disaster loans have until July 31 for the first three states and Aug. 14 for Rhode Island. Victims can call the SBA at (800) 659-2955 or email the disaster center at disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

email: jepstein@buffnews.com