By Cheryl Piccio, ABS CBN News
HOUSTON, TX — The federal government expects to pay out $11 billion in insurance claims from Hurricane Harvey, making it the second costliest storm in the history of the National Flood Insurance Program.
But 80 percent of Houston homeowners lack flood coverage, even though flooding is the most common natural disaster. Houston Insurance expert June Juguilon says, this is mistake that can mean the difference between recovery and financial devastation.
“Every house, everywhere is in a flood zone. No one can say because a house sits on a hill, it is impossible to be flooded. Only the one up there (God) knows,” said Juguilon. “To me, every house is in a flood zone.”
Those without flood insurance must rely on FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund — money from the federal government to fund response and recovery efforts associated with domestic major disasters and emergencies.
The amount victims can receive from FEMA’s fund will vary. The agency considers the amount of damage and the amount of insurance coverage each victim already has. But getting even the initial pay out for a claim, can be slow.
“The house assistance, that is still in the works, they have not called me for an inspection,” said resident Lourdes Magsino.
“We tried to apply for FEMA support, but up till now, we have not seen a single penny from them,” said Edwin De Guzman. “We keep following it up, but we have not received anything since we applied on the first day.”
Insurance experts say on average 1 inch of water in a 2500 square foot home can generate $30,000 in repair costs.
Many Houston homes had as high as 8 feet of water. That means non-insured families with soaked furniture and water-damaged walls will have to dig deep into their pockets or take on more debt to fix up their homes.
“Sa katulad po naming na binaha na bukas ang walls by 4 feet high. Kailangan masarhan, kailangang ma-repair, kailangang mapalitan ang furnitures, wala po kaming katulad naming pamilya na mapag-kukunan ng financial na pang- palit sa gamilt at sa mga repair ng aming tahanan,” said Caesar Leynes.
FEMA is not the only agency having difficulty getting funds to those who need it most.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and City councilman Dave Martin both had strong words for the Red Cross after many Harvey survivors were found not to be getting the assistance promised by the organization, specifically $400 promised to families who survived the flood.
“If I, if anyone tells you I am going to do this and I don’t do it, then you have to be able to accept the criticism,” Houston’s Mayor, Sylvester Turner, said. “Because right now when people are in a very difficult situation, they are relying on what you tell them.”
“I beg you not to send them a penny. They are the most inept, unorganized organization I’ve ever experienced,” said City Councilman Dave Martin.
The Red Cross said its system for the program went down Monday and representatives did not know when it would be up.
On September 21, the Red Cross plans to launch a single website where severely impacted households can apply for the $400.
Registration will remain open until October 10.