Video: Bitter fight over hurricane insurance

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/10/2005 7:19:48 PM ET 2005-10-10T23:19:48

In Waveland, which was obliterated by Hurricane Katrina, Mark Buchanan's house was flattened. At first, Buchanan thought he was covered by his homeowner’s insurance policy. After all, he has a hurricane deductible.

"This is a policy to cover a hurricane," he says as he shows NBC News the documents. "It's what it says — that's why I'm required to pay a deductible. This is a hurricane."

But his claims adjuster has warned him he might not be covered because he didn't buy a separate flood insurance policy.

Waveland was hit by fierce winds and a massive storm surge. The argument over what hurricane damage is actually covered — the question of wind vs. water — is at the heart of a bitter fight involving thousands of families along the Gulf Coast.

Typically, a homeowner’s policy covers wind damage, while federal flood insurance covers damage from rising water.

"People knew in this area, or should have reasonably known, or been told, that their standard homeowner’s policy did not cover storm surge or flooding," says Bill Davis with the Hurricane Insurance Information Center.

But Mark Buchanan is furious, saying that with this much destruction, it's impossible to tell what was caused by floods or wind.

"Look at the trees," he says. "You can see where they snapped off."

Linda Hornsby is going through the same insurance fight on her property in Biloxi.

"It's an indignity," she says. "In addition to what the storm did, it's such an indignity to be dealt with like this."

In the wake of many such complaints, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and others have filed suit against the insurance industry.

"Write a check and quit fussing with those people that have nothing but a slab left," says Hood to the industry.

Insurance industry officials say they're doing all they can to help but that paying for flood damage they never offered to cover in the first place would raise insurance rates around the country and could even threaten the industry.

It's an emotional fight with huge personal losses and billions of dollars at stake.

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