By Michael Hill
“We literally had to swim out of our house that day,” said Kerry Gowan.
Gowan recounts the day Superstorm Sandy hit their house in the Highlands in Monmouth County and how her family had faithfully paid for $160,000 worth of flood insurance coverage but got low-balled by her insurance carrier when the family needed help the most.
“We thought that we would get what we deserved. We did not. Instead, we got barely half,” she said.
And Gowan says an insurance adjuster downplayed the damage.
“He found all kinds of ways to deny our coverage and said the home could be repaired, which was not true,” she said.
They’re one of 70,000 New Jersey families who’ve been urged by Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker to contact FEMA — or “opt in” — for a review instead of waiting to receive letters.
“I’m pleased FEMA has taken this step and optimistic that it will give Sandy victims both primary and secondary homeowners alike the opportunity to be made whole,” Menendez said.
Booker says for insurers who shortchanged New Jerseyans, “This is the day we’re going to make sure they’re going to take responsibility. And for FEMA — who we have been working with now for a very long time — I’m glad we’re seeing the level of accountability that New Jerseyans deserved from day one.”
“So far two out of three people who contacted FEMA have been eligible for a review. So that’s a pretty good percentage,” Menendez said.
FEMA’s Brad Kieserman repeatedly urged Sandy survivors to call a toll free number or go online to reopen their claims.
“You should expect that you are going to get an adjuster who’s not there to low ball you, who’s not there to underpay you, who’s not there to protect some imaginary reserve of money,” Kieserman said.
FEMA says there are lessons to be learned from every disaster. But, from Katrina to Sandy why does the government response seem so dysfunctional when it comes to helping survivors recover from a storm?
“It really is all about people helping people when they most need help. Advocates do that. Volunteers organizations do that. There’s a host of people in the entire community that do that. Government’s a part of it but we’re not all of it. But, we need to do our part better,” Kieserman said.
“Better” for the Gowans at this point would mean a fair review process and giving them what they’re owed so they can move on.
“Our house is gone. Just an empty lot. We live in a rental hoping for the day we can move back,” Kerry Gowan said.
The goal of thousands of shortchanged homeowners.