Meetings, reviews set for Isabel victims

Flood insurance officials will talk to residents, re-examine settlements

April 03, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

In an effort to address widespread complaints after Tropical Storm Isabel, the federal flood insurance program will hold outreach meetings in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina and send letters to storm victims offering to re-evaluate their settlements, officials announced yesterday.

The move comes amid a "top-to-bottom" review of the program by Federal Insurance Administrator Anthony S. Lowe and calls by senators from Maryland and North Carolina to help the hundreds of Isabel victims who have yet to return to their homes.

"We're treating this very seriously," Lowe said. "It's an effort that we are putting our best resources behind from across the country."

Teams of National Flood Insurance Program officials will hold community outreach meetings in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Dorchester counties, as well as in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the Tidewater region of Virginia. Flood victims will be able to meet with program officials to review their claims, Lowe said.

The dates, times and locations of the meetings will be advertised in local newspapers, and Lowe said the teams will be in place a week before and after the meetings to help flood victims. Letters will be sent to all 24,000 people who submitted claims, he said.

The NFIP has also set up a toll-free telephone number for flood victims, 800-427-4661, which will be operational from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, beginning today.

Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski commended Lowe for taking action. During a hearing last month, they, along with Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, urged Lowe to re-examine the claims.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency "should have done this long ago. I set up workshops because my constituents didn't know where else to turn for information or assistance," Mikulski said in a written statement.

Marybeth Midgett, an Isabel victims advocate from North Carolina, said her concern now is whether the people who oversaw Isabel claims will be the ones re-evaluating them.

"This is a great thing," she wrote in an e-mail. "But if the same people are looking over things that gave the adjusters the restrictions in the first place, that will help how? Who is policing them?"

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said the failures of the system were so extensive that the federal program needs to make sure people reviewing claims had no previous involvement.

Lowe said program officials will be comparing proposed settlements to contractors' estimates.

One of the chief complaints of Isabel victims is that settlements fell short of what contractors charge for repairs.

"The issue isn't different eyes looking at the claim," Lowe said. "The issue is asking for someone to really stand in the gap between the adjustment figure and the construction figure to see what can be done."

Steve Kanstoroom, a flood victim from Talbot County who has been working with the insurance program to resolve Isabel problems, said he is optimistic about Lowe's plan.

"I'm very pleased, but I'm not surprised," Kanstoroom said. "Anthony Lowe strikes me as a man of his word."

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