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FEMA chief tells senators he will push for release of Sandy flood insurance documents

This corner lot on Michigan Street in Long

This corner lot on Michigan Street in Long Beach is among the properties affected by a federal judge's order to release flood insurance documents suspected of being falsified to deny superstorm Sandy claims. It was photographed on Nov. 13, 2014. Credit: Johnny Milano

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told a Senate delegation Wednesday that he would now push engineers and adjusters to comply with a federal judge's order to release flood insurance documents suspected of being falsified to deny superstorm Sandy claims.

FEMA administrator W. Craig Fugate told Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Charles Schumer and their two Democratic colleagues from New Jersey that his agency would push the private contractors to turn over draft copies of their reports documenting flood damage in homes after the 2012 storm.

Last month, a federal judge in Central Islip called for the documents' release after determining at least one was secretly edited to avoid paying a full settlement on a house in Long Beach.

Fugate's vow to back the move appears to be a change of position for FEMA. Last week, the agency, which runs the National Flood Insurance Program, filed an appeal arguing that those documents should not be released.

A FEMA spokesman declined to confirm whether that appeal would now be withdrawn, saying only that the agency was "taking steps" to address the senators' concerns.

"I am confident he is going to give us those documents," Gillibrand said in an interview. "And if he doesn't -- there will be serious consequences."

Gillibrand and Schumer, together with Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, called the meeting with Fugate amid outcry from the more than 2,000 homeowners in New York and New Jersey who have sued over Sandy flood insurance settlements.

They have complained of being stonewalled by lawyers hired by the government.

And they were outraged by the contention in the Nov. 7 ruling by Judge Gary Brown that engineering reports may have been routinely doctored to avoid paying claims.

"Something very wrong is going on here," Schumer said. "It stinks to the heavens."

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