Isabel claims being pressed

Sarbanes, Mikulski seek federal payments for victims of tropical storm

Up to 30 Md. families

Letter written to head of flood insurance program

September 17, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

With remnants of Hurricane Ivan threatening Western and Central Maryland with heavy rain and flooding, the state's U.S. senators intensified pressure yesterday on the federal flood insurance program to settle dozens of outstanding claims from victims still struggling to recover from last year's Tropical Storm Isabel.

Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski wrote the head of the National Flood Insurance Program, pressing the agency on cases in which constituents have asked for their help.

The letter to David Maurstad confirms an agreement that flood insurance officials will meet with victims of Isabel whose claims are in dispute and reconsider their decision to halt an independent review of claims.

The senators expressed concern that as many as 30 Maryland families have yet to settle their claims. Many are still living in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers, unable to start rebuilding their homes because of insurance disputes.

"As we approach the one-year anniversary of this devastating storm, it is critical that ... Isabel victims who remain in temporary housing and who have been unable to come to settlement with FEMA have an opportunity to meet with FEMA representatives in person about their claims," they wrote.

The letter followed a meeting Monday of Sarbanes, Mikulski and Maurstad. A FEMA spokesman confirmed that the agency received the letter and said it would respond.

Thousands of Isabel victims from Maryland to North Carolina have complained that flood insurance settlements were far short of the cost to rebuild.

In the spring, under pressure from Congress, the then-head of the federal flood insurance program, Anthony S. Lowe, conceded that the program did not work properly after the storm.

Review promised

Lowe promised to review any of the 24,000 claims from the storm in which victims were unsatisfied with their settlements.

The agency also agreed to hire PriceWaterhouseCoopers, a private auditing firm, to review claims that couldn't be settled by federal adjusters.

But Sarbanes and Mikulski wrote that they learned this week that the independent review had been suspended because of the agency's concern about lawsuits that have been filed over Isabel disputes.

`More troubling'

"This turn of events is even more troubling in light of recent allegations that FEMA adjusters are using inaccurate price guides and are not evaluating claims consistently," they wrote.

Mikulski and members of Sarbanes' staff also met this week with Steve Kanstoroom, a Talbot County flood victim who for six months has been at the center of efforts to increase settlements and bring reform to the flood insurance program.

"I believe Sen. Mikulski is determined to get to the bottom of any wrongdoing in and around FEMA and to make sure the victims are treated fairly," Kanstoroom said.

`I had ... given up'

Jennifer Dieux, who is living with her husband, three sons and a dog in a FEMA trailer outside their storm-damaged home in Shady Side, also attended the meeting.

She said a contractor has offered to repair their one-story home for $114,000, but their flood insurance settlement was only $50,000.

She signed up for the promised review, and an adjuster offered her $19,000 more, still far short. But she said she came out of the meeting convinced that Mikulski will help.

"Her main goal is to get us back into our home," Dieux said. "I had pretty much given up."

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