Overdue Insurance Reports, Displacement: Sandy Victims Cope with Frustrating Process

By Jillian MacMath, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
April 13, 2013; 6:13 AM
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For documentation, Faith Liguori and Brad Travis have maintained a scrapbook of photos of the mold and property damage discovered post-storm. Image/David Defilippis

As the six-month mark approaches since Sandy ransacked the East Coast, frustrations are mounting for those with severe damage to their homes and property.

Many have spent months in the residences of family or friends or in hotels paid for by FEMA while they await the arrival of insurance checks and reports. All the while, flood zones have been in flux, and the mold continues to grow on the foundations of badly-damaged homes along the coast.

Faith Liguori, a year-round resident of Seaside Park, is no stranger to the frustration of her community. When Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012, her primary residence took on 5 feet of water, forcing her and her husband, Brad Travis, to gut the entire first floor.

Liguori admits that they stayed 'foolishly' throughout the storm.

"We stayed because we were here for Irene and a lot of bad nor'easters and never had any water in here. We had a little bit in the garage but that's easy. We never expected this," she said.

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Liguori's neighborhood, like many, has been shifted to a different flood zone in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. The zones designate an area's susceptibility to flooding and wave action.

Once an 'A' zone, an area where waves are expected to be low, Liguori's house now marks the beginning of a 'V' zone, a zone indicative of an area which can receive waves over 3 feet.

Homes in 'V' zones are not permitted to have foundations that will obstruct water in a flood scenario.

"The difference is tremendous in what you have to do. In an 'A' zone, you can lift your house up on blocks. In a 'V' zone, you must be on pilings, which are very expensive," Liguori said.

"In order to do that, you need to move your house, get it off of your property, you have to bring in this giant machinery that pounds the pilings into the ground," she said.

Between pilings and freeboard, Liguori's rebuilt house would sit 12 feet above the flood zone.

"The storm we could handle. We can't handle this, FEMA. What the government says, we can't handle that," Travis said.

Image/David Defilippis

Travis and Liguori's insurance company said on Jan. 21, 2013, that an insurance report would be received within seven to 10 days, but it was not until late March that it arrived, roughly five months post-storm.

"In the beginning, people were like, 'Let's get this cleaned out. Let's put our homes back together.' And then, the new information came out about the flood maps, and the insurance rates went up, and what does that mean to you as a homeowner? And then everyone stopped because no one knows the right thing to do," Liguori said.

Many who have received advanced checks from their insurance companies are hesitant to use the money. Without a report, it is unclear what damage is covered and at what amount the damages are valued.

While federal mitigation grants are being made available by FEMA to assist with the expense of raising a home, the funds are limited. Those who have already begun the process of raising a home are not eligible.

"Your home is the American dream. You work your whole life. That's where your investment is and now people are facing the possibility that they may lose their homes because they don't have the money to pay the higher cost of insurance. They don't have the money to raise their homes. What do they do?" Liguori asked.

The couple insists that their situation is not unique. Thousands along the coast face the task of rebuilding after Sandy.

"I mean the insurance companies are overwhelmed and I understand that; I don't like it but I understand it," she said. "We need the insurance companies to be more responsive, we need the mortgage companies to lighten up on the paperwork, and truly we need FEMA to reconsider what it's doing."

Despite businesses re-opening their doors and tourism season approaching, there is still much of the Jersey Shore that has not returned to normalcy, Faith said.

"This is really about families today. It's about how many people still need help. How many houses can't be put back because families don't have their insurance reports, don't have advance payments, don't know how to do it. There are still children who are not in their homes, not on their buses, not in their classrooms."

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