Insurance pains following Superstorm Sandy

Contractors like this man have kept busy a month after Hurricane Sandy blew in. On hands and knees, the carpenter works on a fixing a damaged roof on Tierney Place.
Photo by David Cruz

One month after Superstorm Sandy’s destructive wake, some Bronx homeowners are still waiting for help from their insurers.

Along the borough’s hard-hit eastern coastline, they’ve left their damaged homes basically untouched, on orders from their absentee insurance carriers, waiting to recoup their losses and pick up their lives.

“The Bronx is forgotten about,” complained longtime Schuyler Hill resident Terry Fitzpatrick. Her low-lying waterfront area is a flood-prone Zone A community, with flood insurance mandatory.

Many homeowners there are covered by the federally-subsidized National Flood Insurance Program, run through their regular insurer.

Sandy’s crushing tides swept into Fitzpatrick’s first floor, drowning her washer, dryer and fridge and leaving a three-foot high water mark on her Pennyfield Avenue home.

FEMA penalty

With thousands of dollars in damage, she reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but was turned down.

“They’re penalizing people who have insurance,” said Fitzpatrick. “Every one else is getting money from FEMA and I’m not getting anything.”

She put in a claim with the troubled National Flood Insurance Program, almost broke years after issuing big payouts from Hurricane Katrina. With Congress now working on a bailout, the program faces $6 billion to $12 billion in new claims from Sandy, according to FEMA.

An NFIP adjuster did stop by Fitzpatrick’s house to assess the damage. She called the company early last week and was told it would take her up to 90 days to get reimbursed. Next came her homeowner’s policy insurer.

“They sent a guy – a jerk – who said this is flood insurance.”

She’s so far hired a carpenter to start repairs, paying everything with her credit card.

A few houses down, 30-year-resident Lori McGlynn is still waiting on NFIP, which demanded she keep everything the way the storm left it.

No shows

“They call us and say they’re coming,” said McGlynn. “Nobody’s showed up.”

Her damaged boiler turned her three-story house into an icebox, forcing McGlynn to shell out thousands to replace the heating system.

“Everything’s still a mess inside my home.”

McGlynn said she understands the Bronx fared relatively better than Brooklyn and Queens, with needed resources pushed there.

In Harding Park, the southeastern community where several homes were inhabitable for several weeks, homeowners there are confused over their options, said local Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, who’s been in direct contact with victims.

“They’re not sure what the process is,” Crespo said, adding the confusion lies with insurance providers defining what damage they are responsible for.

Between homeowner’s and flood insurance, the assessment process has been the key problem holding thing’s up.

“They have them in limbo as far as how they will repair their homes,” said Crespo.

FEMA aid

But FEMA spokesman Frank Lapoor said the agency hasn’t forgotten about the Bronx.

More than 4,000 Bronx homeowners have received an average of $7,000 in financial aid, though it often takes several weeks to see a check in the mail.

“This is an assistance program, not a substitute program,” said Lapoor, who emphasized anyone denied by FEMA can appeal.

Victims can also stop by a Restoration Center at St. Frances de Chantal at 190 Hollywood Avenue in Throggs Neck, considered a one-stop shop for victims who can register for assistance with FEMA, and various city agencies. The intake staff has registered many folks primarily from Edgewater Park, Harding Park and the Riverdale/Kingsbridge area.

Meanwhile, homeowners are entitled to hire their own private insurance adjuster.

But getting help from them has been a slow go – said Nick Virello, a local contractor and board member on the Locust Point Civic Association.

A Georgia-based adjuster was assigned several homes in the middle class community, said Virello, but was low-balling the damage.

“They don’t know what New York prices are, so they give very low estimates,” said Virello, owner of Seal Tite Builders, which has completed some repair work in Locust Point. “They should come by with an open check book and start writing checks.”

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3383

Superstorm Sandy victim Nick Virello stands where his private dock once stood, a month after Sandy ripped it off its foundation. He now waits for his insurance company to make a decision. For some area residents waiting for assistance, their patience is wearing thin.
Photo by David Cruz

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