State to compensate Sandy victims for 'earth movement'

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New York State will fully compensate superstorm Sandy victims whose property damage claims were rejected by FEMA due to a little-known "earth movement" exclusion, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Friday.

Homeowners who had flood insurance claims rejected for the same reason after tropical storms Irene and Lee will also be covered, Cuomo said.

"Over the last few years, we experienced three once-in-a-century storms that wreaked an unprecedented level of devastation in communities across the state," the governor said in a statement.

"While we have made much progress in recovering from Irene, Lee and Sandy, many New Yorkers are still left without a place to call home and limited resources to rebuild due to National Flood Insurance Program regulations, which state that homes damaged by 'earth movement' are not covered," he said.

Cuomo's office could not immediately provide cost estimates but said funding for the initiative would come from federal community block grants provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Early this year, Congress passed a $51 billion Sandy aid bill. States can spend the grants at their own discretion.

New York and Long Island political leaders have criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency for rejecting hundreds of Sandy flood claims due to the "earth movement" exclusion.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) met Thursday with FEMA director Craig Fugate to ask the agency to review the rejected claims. She said Fugate told her that the homeowners can file appeals.

FEMA officials had no immediate comment on Cuomo's announcement. Spokesman Dan Watson has said the agency is following the letter of the law in issuing the denials. Some of those homes may have had problems that existed before Sandy, he said.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said in an email Friday that he's "thrilled" with Cuomo's decision. "The 'earth movement' exclusion for flooding resulted in the denial of many residents' ability to rebuild," he said.

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Mangano wrote to Cuomo on Wednesday, urging him to have the state pick up the tab.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone could not be reached for comment.

The Standard Flood Insurance Policy administered by FEMA only covers direct physical loss to buildings that is attributed to flooding.

The federal flood insurance plan pays for damage caused by a surge of water that scours around foundations or undermines a slab, directly damaging the foundation. The plan, however, does not cover "earth movement," which includes destabilization caused by nearby flooding, FEMA officials have said.

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