Isabel victims make appeal to Ehrlich

They ask state to pressure federal officials to ensure flood claims are resolved

August 24, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

A dozen Maryland residents hand-picked by state officials to represent victims of Tropical Storm Isabel are calling on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Maryland Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. to put more pressure on federal officials to process flood insurance claims fairly and quickly.

At a meeting last night in Annapolis, the residents, many still living in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers, told officials that they have not received adequate insurance settlements to help them rebuild.

They asked that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge be urged to ensure the flood program doesn't leave storm victims thousands of dollars short on repairs.

"We're being raped and robbed, and it's being allowed to continue and continue," said Bernice Myer, a Millers Island resident, who wore a T-shirt that said, "Insurance: Fraud or Fiction."

"We're still no further along" than shortly after the storm, added Henry Hale, a Talbot County resident whose house was condemned and torn down, and who lives in a FEMA trailer.

Redmer shook his head as he listened to horror stories from residents who say they're being offered half of what they need to rebuild demolished homes. He said his office will release a report in a few weeks detailing the flaws it has observed in the National Flood Insurance Program.

"We will advocate to the extent we can to fix the problems that exist," he said. But Redmer cautioned that his office has little power to reform federal programs.

The Isabel victims also called for Ehrlich and other state officials to write letters to their Florida counterparts, warning of potential insurance pitfalls in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, which struck this month.

"We're going to do what we can to see that what happened to Isabel victims doesn't happen to Charley victims," said Steve Kanstoroom, a Talbot County resident and leading spokesman for Isabel victims.

Redmer said he would share all the information he could with his Florida counterparts.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor would have to review Isabel victims' requests before commenting.

The group of Isabel victims first met with Redmer and other officials in March. Also that month, Redmer called on Congress to re-examine the coverage offered under national flood insurance policies, require more training for those who sell them and establish deadlines for the adjustment of claims.

Isabel struck the East Coast in September, generating more than $400 million in claims to the federal flood insurance program. But hundreds of property owners in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina complained that their flood insurance settlements were far too low.

Auditors from a federal inspector general's office are investigating the NFIP's handling of claims from Tropical Storm Isabel, according to flood victims and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office.

Meanwhile, NFIP officials have spent the past few months re-examining thousands of Isabel claims and found that many homeowners received less money than they should have. Flood victims have not been satisfied with the re-examination, however, raising questions about possible conflicts of interests in the review.

In May, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. requested that the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore investigate the performance of Computer Sciences Corp., the company contracted by the federal government to handle Isabel claims. Also in May, a Washington law firm filed suit in federal court on behalf of thousands of Isabel victims, alleging that seven insurance companies systematically sought to shortchange flood policyholders.

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