Meetings set to discuss insurers' response to Isabel

Appeals process is focus of some of the sessions

December 31, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Acting on scores of complaints about how poorly insurance companies responded to Tropical Storm Isabel, community leaders and government leaders have scheduled a series of meetings in eastern Baltimore County over the next week to determine what went wrong and to help storm victims file insurance appeals.

"This isn't going to be another town meeting where everyone stands up and says their piece," said Bernice Myer, president of the Millers Island Improvement Association and founder of the Isabel Victims Citizens Group. "We've had a hundred of them."

Instead, residents can attend meetings Friday and Saturday with former state insurance Commissioner Steven B. Larsen, who is reviewing the insurance industry's response to Isabel for County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

Early next week, federal officials will meet with residents to review the appeals process for those whose national flood insurance claims and requests for loans and federal disaster assistance have been denied.

"I believe part of the problem is the criteria being used," Myer said, noting that most of the county's waterfront residents didn't qualify for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mike Vivirito, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association, said that he is hopeful this next round of sessions with officials will help not only those whose homes were damaged and destroyed by flooding from Isabel, but also victims of future natural disasters.

"This is a fact-finding effort in order to make sure this kind of catastrophic loss doesn't happen again," said Damian O'Doherty, a spokesman for Smith. "We're once again calling upon residents to memorialize their experiences with insurance companies. Primarily, the thrust of this probe is to determine what went wrong. ... But if the facts show there's anything else we can do for these people, you can bet we'll work toward that."

Two weeks ago, Smith accused state Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. of being unresponsive to the plight of Isabel victims. Redmer denied the allegation, saying his agency had worked hard to resolve all complaints.

County officials have estimated that more than 3,000 homes will have to be repaired and another 326 torn down and rebuilt because of damage from the storm Sept. 18 and 19.

Larsen will be paid $24,000 for his investigation. He will oversee a survey that will try to pinpoint the source of insurance problems among Isabel victims.

The surveys will be completed from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association, 1124 Bowleys Quarters Road, and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Edgemere Senior Center, 6600 North Point Road.

Meetings arranged by U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski with officials from FEMA, the National Flood Insurance Program and the Small Business Administration to learn how to file an appeal will be from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 7 at the Wells-McComas Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2678, 6521 North Point Road in Edgemere.

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