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Superstorm Sandy

Storm victims want help with insurers, bureaucrats

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Much of the boardwalk and theme rides were destroyed in Seaside Heights, N.J. Much of the boardwalk and theme rides were destroyed in Seaside Heights, N.J.

By WAYNE PARRY

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- The water came in torrents; the aid is being parceled out drip by drip.

That was one of the main complaints voiced Monday by victims of Superstorm Sandy at a legislative hearing in Trenton on the pace of the state's recovery from the Oct. 29 storm. Several people whose homes or businesses were wrecked said they are still waiting for help with government aid. They also are battling insurers who don't want to pay the full amount on policies for storm damage.

They asked state lawmakers to hold insurers and lenders accountable for paying out what they should and also sought help navigating the state and federal storm aid bureaucracy.

Joanne Gwin of Toms River got $101,000 on a $250,000 flood insurance policy, and she wonders why.

"Why can't the insurance companies write us a check for the policy we paid for?" she asked. "We have a need for that money and we only received 40 percent of what we need to rebuild our home."

Kathleen Fisher of Ventnor said when her small insurance check arrived, it took three months for her mortgage company to sign it. She said the response of those who are supposed to help has been numbing.

"Nobody showed any kind of compassion for any of us," she said. "We're treated like criminals, like we're trying to get something for nothing when we're just trying to get the insurance money we thought was due to us."

She and others repeatedly complained that no one in government or private industry seemed to have accurate information on what aid is available and how to get it.

"Everybody I spoke to doesn't seem to know what they're doing," she said. "We get different answers from everyone we speak to."

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, said, "We continue to devote huge numbers of people and energy daily to the task of getting everyone we possibly can back in their homes and businesses as soon as humanly possible. "

He said the source of most of the insurance complaints has been the National Flood Insurance Program, which refuses to participate in a state mediation program to address policyholder complaints. In the areas where the state has jurisdiction -- homeowners, personal auto and commercial claims, "the New Jersey insurance industry's response has been good," Drewniak said. Of the more than 458,000 non-flood claims filed, carriers have settled 96 percent, paying out more than $3.6 billion to date, he said.

Simone Dannecker, who tearfully testified at an earlier hearing in Atlantic City on the difficulties her family has had getting aid for their Union Beach home, which she and her husband fixed on their own, said she suspects Sandy storm aid is being more closely scrutinized following reports of widespread fraud with storm aid following Hurricane Katrina.

"We're being punished for that," she said. "Nobody is being held accountable for their actions in this state. It's sickening. Nobody gets results. You're just another statistic, just another phone call."

Drewniak acknowledged the burden that applying for aid can entail, and he, too cited Katrina problems.

"The requirements and application process are a double-edged sword because, while they protect against the kind of fraud and abuse of taxpayer money that occurred rampantly after Katrina, it is a very painstaking process," he said.

Gigi Liaguno-Dorr, whose bay-front restaurant in Union Beach was destroyed in the storm, said insurers, lenders and government are all making storm victims jump through hoops.

"It is frustrating; we got our butts kicked," she said. "I have a house, I have a child in college, I lost my business. And all I want to do is get back."

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