Flood Insurance Issues Cause N.C. Officials to Write

By GARY D. ROBERTSON | November 3, 2011

Two North Carolina state officials want flood insurance claims adjusters to return to areas pummeled by Hurricane Irene to ensure home and business inspections are performed adequately so damage claims can be resolved as winter approaches.

State Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and Bob Etheridge – Gov. Beverly Perdue’s adviser on the recovery from the late August hurricane – wrote to the National Flood Insurance Program, which is under the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Etheridge and Goodwin said they’ve received repeated complaints from citizens about the claims process. Adjusters from the program and private insurers haven’t done a sufficient job examining property “or worse have failed to follow up or show up to evaluate the claims,” they wrote.

“It is important for these claims to be evaluated properly and paid as quickly as possible so that these survivors can continue to rebuild their lives (and) that they get the services that they paid for what they bought and maintained their flood insurance policy,” the officials wrote.

Etheridge said Tuesday in a phone interview the letter dated last Friday came as displeasure reached a boiling point during a Tyrrell County town hall meeting. But there have been similar complaints in other eastern counties, he said. Other areas hard hit by the storm include Dare, Pamlico and Hyde counties.

“It is incumbent (on them) to come back in here and take another look,” said Etheridge, a former North Carolina congressman.

FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said the flood program is reviewing the letter and is working “to ensure we are delivering the best possible service to our customers and helping disaster survivors recover from Hurricane Irene as quickly as possible.”

The flood program has offered for more than 40 years affordable insurance to more than 20,000 communities that participate in flood damage reduction efforts and to residents in federally designated flood zones. FEMA, of which the program is an agency arm, has an appeals process if a policyholder is unhappy that some portion or the entire claim was denied.

Goodwin travelled to coastal communities last month and announced Department of Insurance assistant sites for people with questions or complaints about their insurance coverage.

Separate from insurance payments, the storm’s recovery has cost governments about $140 million so far, according to the state Office of Management and Budget. Nearly 9,000 households have received payments for temporary housing and the replacement of personal property.

Officials estimated the state so far is obligated to pay about $30 million in matching funds so far, with others expenses paid by the federal government.

The state’s share doesn’t reflect needs unmet by government funding, most of which are connected to crop, forestry and agricultural equipment losses that could exceed $500 million, Etheridge said.

He said state officials are still working on a proposed funding package to address the unmet needs. Federal agencies and Congress will be lobbied to help pay for the additional expenses. The Legislature also could be asked to defray some of the costs.

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