N.J. Senators Urge Flood Coverage for Basements

August 13, 2004

New Jersey’s U.S. senators are maintaining that many residents affected by last month’s flooding in Burlington and Camden counties are being denied monetary relief because of narrowly defined federal flood insurance coverage.

The Democrats said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) prohibits reimbursement for any items located in a part of a home that is below ground, such as basements, and damaged by flooding.

FEMA is in charge of the national flood insurance program.

“This narrow definition has the effect of denying relief to many families who reside in split-level homes in which the lower level is located below ground level,” the senators said.

In a letter sent to Michael D. Brown, the undersecretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response, the senators said many families have bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, bathrooms and offices below ground level.

“Denying flood insurance coverage for damage to personal property in these living areas is wrong and inconsistent with the purposes for which the flood insurance program was established,” the senators wrote.

The senators asked that FEMA waive its regulation and consider changing the program to include coverage for below ground areas.

A FEMA official said the agency was preparing a response.

Homes in Burlington and Camden counties were damaged when more than 13 inches of rain fell from July 12 to July 13, bursting small dams and causing extensive flooding. More than 500 people had to be evacuated from their homes. On July 16, President Bush declared the two counties a federal disaster area, paving the way for federal assistance.

On its Web site, FEMA has a description of the flood insurance program, and spells out what it covers. FEMA defines a basement as “any area of a building with a floor that is below ground level on all sides.”

“While flood insurance does not cover basement improvements, such as finished walls, floors or ceilings, or personal belongings that may be kept in a basement, such as furniture and other contents, it does cover structural elements, essential equipment and other basic items normally located in a basement,” FEMA said.

FEMA encourages people to buy both building and contents coverage for the broadest protection. With building coverage, many items are covered as long as they are connected to a power source and installed in their functioning location.

Among these items are: sump pumps, well water tanks and pumps, oil tanks, natural gas tanks, furnaces, hot water heaters, air conditioners, heat pumps and circuit breakers. Other items covered are stairways, unpainted drywall and ceilings.

With contents coverage, items covered include washers and dryers, freezers and the food in them.

More than $5.7 million in disaster aid has been sent to the two counties.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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