East News

Md. Report Faults FEMA for Failing Isabel Victims

October 1, 2004

Problems within the federal flood insurance agency have kept victims of Tropical Storm Isabel from getting adequate settlements for storm damage, according to a report by a flood insurance activist.

The report, which Baltimore County released Wednesday, cites communication problems and conflicts of interest in the federal agency as problems that have hindered settlements.

The report, obtained by The (Baltimore) Sun, was compiled by flood insurance activist Steve Kanstoroom, who used internal government documents, videotaped interviews with federal officials and letters from experts.

It paints a bleak picture of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's efforts on behalf of victims of last September's storm.

"FEMA's response has deteriorated to the point of stonewalling the victims and attempting to mislead our representatives into thinking the victims have received the compensation they are entitled to,'' the Talbot County activist wrote.

With a change in leadership at the National Flood Insurance Program and a record four hurricanes in Florida this year taxing FEMA's resources, the report says, the push for a comprehensive solution to problems exposed by Isabel has waned.

Despite months of protest from storm victims and demands from Congress, many problems have not been corrected, and many who lost their homes in last year's storm still have not received fair compensation, the report says.

In spring, amid thousands of complaints from Isabel victims and pressure from Congress, federal flood insurance officials agreed to reform the program and re-evaluate any claims from dissatisfied Isabel victims. The agency paid millions in supplemental claims as a result.

Baltimore County Executive James Smith Jr. requested Kanstoroom's report as a follow-up to a study by former Maryland Insurance Commissioner Steven B. Larsen. The Larsen report, released in February, relied on a survey of victims to point out shortfalls between flood settlement offers and the cost of repairs, misleading or incorrect statements from flood insurance agents, and pressure to settle from adjusters.

Kanstoroom's report is focused on identifying the causes of the problems that Larsen identified and of others that have developed since the previous report was written.

Smith said 65 families in Baltimore County are still living in trailers because they have been unable to rebuild their homes. He said he doesn't think FEMA has done enough to prevent future problems. He said he will forward Kanstoroom's report to the Maryland Insurance Administration, the U.S. attorney's office and to Maryland's congressional delegation.

"Our people need to be restored to their pre-storm condition,'' Smith said. "They do not want a handout, but they deserve the coverage the law affords.''

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