Highland Falls residents await FEMA aid, confront insurance hurdles following devastating floods

Nearly a month after floods ravaged their homes, residents in Highland Falls are growing increasingly frustrated as they attempt to secure state and federal assistance for rebuilding.

Ben Nandy and Colin Schwager

Aug 2, 2023, 9:18 PM

Updated 352 days ago

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Nearly a month after floods ravaged their homes, residents in Highland Falls are growing increasingly frustrated as they attempt to secure state and federal assistance for rebuilding. Many, like Jan Travela and her husband Bob, have seen their pleas met with delay and denial.
The July 9 storm caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage to their home off Route 9W and wreaked havoc throughout the neighborhood. "I measured it. It was like 38 inches of water ... and everything was just submerged," Jan Travela said.
Despite being customers of the same insurance company for 48 years, their claim was denied due to stipulations surrounding flood damage, which their policy doesn't cover.
Travela stated her agent recommended retaining the denial letter to aid in securing government assistance. "This is from the insurance. They said we're sending you a denial letter. You can give this to FEMA," she said.
An event held at the local Senior Center saw several homeowners, including the Travelas, seeking advice from public agencies and questioning public officials about when FEMA's assessment would be complete and if they were eligible for federal aid.
While lawmakers couldn't provide a definitive timeline, they indicated it might take months to decide.
In the meantime, Assembly Member Chris Eachus (D-NY) is working on legislation requiring insurance companies to provide clearer upfront information about their policies, hoping to avoid such unexpected denial of claims.
"We are then going to look at what we can do about things that are covered and not covered by policies. Instead of having them at the end of a typical policy write-up, let's do it at the beginning," Eachus said.
The proposed legislation comforts the Travelas, who hope for more pressure on insurance companies. "I would like to see them push the insurance companies to at least do something. As far as neighbors and friends have told me, they've done nothing for everyone," Jan Travela said.
However, Travelas' difficulties extend beyond insurance problems. They also fail to meet income requirements to obtain grants through a new state-funded home repair program, leaving FEMA assistance as their last hope for rebuilding.
Local officials recall that the last time FEMA sent aid to this area was after Hurricane Ida in September 2021, which took about three months.


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