Video: Insurers, Katrina homeowners clash

By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/20/2005 7:30:42 PM ET 2005-09-20T23:30:42

On Moonraker Drive in devastated Slidell, homeowners lives are at the curb and their tempers are short as insurance adjusters classify the vast majority of losses as flood damage — not hurricane or wind damage.

“Got 145-mile per hour winds pushing water off the lake knocking all those camps down into my house,” says Slidell resident Steve Scholl, “and you are gonna call that flood? What came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Generally, flood damage is not covered by homeowners' policies. Instead, you must have flood insurance — a federal program that covers only up to $250,000 in damage, no matter how extensive the destruction.

The storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain, whipped up by Katrina, put a neighbor's hot tub and boat in Warren Willoz's back yard. He hopes his $150,000 flood policy covers the damage done to his $275,000 house. But already there are issues.

“They said they'll only cover the bottom cabinets but not the top,” says Willoz, “because the water didn't get up high enough to damage the top.”

Such frustrations echo along the Gulf Coast.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and several private attorneys are suing several insurance companies including State Farm and Allstate to force them to pick up more of the tab.

The industry blasts those suits as politics, arguing the federal government stepped in decades ago because such potentially huge losses were too expensive for private insurers to cover.

“When you write a fire insurance policy,” explains Joseph Annotti with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, “you don’t expect the entire city to burn down in a day. Flood has potential catastrophic losses.”

But whether it's politics or policy, for these homeowners, any shortfall is too painful.

It's the aftershock Willoz didn't expect. “This is too hard to go through,” he says.

And yet, Willoz is one of the lucky ones — one of the just 46 percent of homeowners in the New Orleans area who have some flood insurance.

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