Theresa Berzner hasn't been able to live in her Long Beach home for almost a year, but each month she and her husband still must pay the mortgage -- plus much of the rent for their temporary quarters.
The money she's received from her insurance company so far has only paid to gut her superstorm Sandy-flooded home, said Berzner, 49, who has no idea when the house will be repaired.
Now her flood insurance premium is about to skyrocket.
"Who can afford to go back? I can't afford it," she said.
Berzner joined dozens of other frustrated and distressed homeowners from South Shore communities on the steps of Babylon Town Hall Saturday as part of a "Stop FEMA" rally. Similar protests were staged across the country, blasting the National Flood Insurance Program's premium hikes that take effect Tuesday.
The dramatic increase in coverage costs for flood-prone areas is part of the Biggert-Waters Reform Act of 2012, which extends and funds the flood insurance program for five years.
Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dan Watson said there's very little flexibility in the law, and it's being implemented as directed by Congress.
But the premium hikes are a nightmare for homeowners in flood zones -- especially Sandy victims, many of whom say they're trapped: They can't sell and can't afford to stay.
Scott Primiano, who runs an Amityville-based insurance firm, said one client's premium is expected to jump from about $2,000 to $3,000 a year -- the first of a series of planned increases.
"The worst thing we can do collectively is go quiet," he said, addressing the crowd at the rally. "Never in my wildest dreams, and I'm sure yours, did you think your taxes, your insurance, would outweigh the cost of your mortgage."
West Islip real estate broker Maria Puglisi said the local housing market is already feeling the pinch.
"There are currently over 200 homes listed for sale located south of Montauk Highway just in the Town of Babylon alone," she said. "These homes are losing value immediately simply because of the unfair flood insurance premiums. They will virtually be unable to be sold."
Said Berzner: "It's a burden on our necks now."