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Homeowners protest FEMA loophole blocking Sandy damage claims

A new group called

A new group called "Sandy Victims Fighting FEMA" hold a rally outside the legislative building in Mineola. (Aug. 29, 2013) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Frustrated Long Island homeowners are demanding that the Federal Emergency Management Agency eliminate an insurance loophole that has undermined their claims to collect for superstorm Sandy damage.

Nearly 100 demonstrators gathered Thursday night outside the Nassau County legislative building in Mineola, where County Executive Edward Mangano offered his support.

Sandy Victims Fighting FEMA, a new group formed to draw attention to the issue, cites an exclusion in standard flood policies that denies payment for loss of property caused directly by earth movement -- even if the movement was caused by a flood.

No one knows how many Sandy-plagued homeowners are affected, but Michele Mittleman, the group's founder, said many Long Islanders have been forced to rent because they can't afford to rebuild on their own.

"There's no way it was intended to have the consequences it is having now," she said of the insurance clause. "Thousands of people are homeless."

Mittleman, whose Freeport home had to be torn down after the storm, wants Congress to require FEMA to pay the claims.

"The insurance company won't give us our money to rebuild our house. They're fighting us tooth and nail," said Denise Kilday, of Seaford.

She and her partner, Ed Marzocchi, are living in a camper parked where their two-bedroom home, demolished after Sandy, once stood.

Mangano has joined New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer in protesting FEMA's policy. "It's absurd, it's ridiculous, it's uncalled for," Mangano said at the rally.

He wrote a letter Thursday to FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, urging him to eliminate the loophole -- and make the change retroactive.

Gillibrand, who first appealed to FEMA in late June, said in a statement that New York homeowners "are rightly angered and they deserve better."

A FEMA spokesman in New York declined to comment.

Federal officials have said they're merely following the letter of the law and that there is ample precedent for their denials. The Standard Flood Insurance Policy only covers direct physical loss to buildings by flooding, not earth movement or destabilization, they say.

Experts say the issue involves the difference between what FEMA and insurance adjusters determine is "erosion" and what is found to be "scouring" of the soil beneath the foundation and its supports.

Scouring generally is defined as having occurred when there was flooding with enough water movement to carry subsoil away from the slab or foundation walls.Schumer, in a Wednesday letter to Fugate, faulted FEMA for rejecting claims after homeowners documented the flooding.

"Many of these denied homeowners obtained engineer reports, at their own expense, substantiating that the structure was compromised due to flooding, not earth movement," he wrote.

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