Fresh Pain and Loss, Nearly Two years After Hurricane Sandy

Sandy pic 5This is what my kitchen looked like after Hurricane Sandy. It had to be ripped out because of the mold that can grow after salt water has been in your house. My entire first floor needed to be gutted. Kitchen, living rom, boiler room, office, laundry room, dining room, bathroom. And let’s not forget the outside electric panel, and the oil tank that was ripped from the side of house (a new one, after Hurricane Irene just over a year prior.)

I had just sprung for a new kitchen before the hurricane hit. Ha. Also new living room furniture. Double ha.

Okay, this is not a typical “writing related” blog post – or is it? This storm changed my life and affected my mind. Certainly my writing was altered, because my hue was changed. For a while I found it hard to write at all, even though I knew my sanity depended on it. And now, just when I thought this was all behind me, there’s fresh devastating news.

After Sandy I had huge problems with FEMA and was refused help from them (and denied the opportunity to even apply for Governor Cuomo’s extra $10,000 per home fund as well.) But when NY Rising was established to help the people who hadn’t been helped otherwise, it seemed my problems were over. My caseworker assured me that the paperwork was in order – it was just a matter of waiting until I was reimbursed for rebuilding. But then, about three weeks ago, the story changed. My FEMA woes were being carried through to the program that was supposed to help me and everyone else who hadn’t been helped otherwise (yes, I repeated the phrase, because it is so ironic that it bears repeating.)

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I did not understand what needed to be done after accepting help from FEMA following Hurricane Irene. My aunt died, the house was in probate, I couldn’t get the mandated flood insurance in my name. (Meanwhile, I later learned that other people were given two years’ flood insurance by FEMA. If only…) I didn’t know that the property needed to have flood insurance, even if my name couldn’t be on it. And I was still dealing with damages FEMA wouldn’t cover from Irene when Sandy hit.

Okay, let’s say I deserved to be FEMA noncompliant (though I’m still not ready to concede this point.) Let’s look at the facts: I got $1300 for an oil tank after Irene. Then Sandy caused $125,000 worth of damage on my property. The federal government has provided funds to help people devastated in Sandy, in a program separate from FEMA. Why should the FEMA “noncompliance” cause me to disavowed from NY Rising? Am I to be punished forever because I misunderstood/mishandled a devastating situation? Shouldn’t there be exceptions for people who have been decimated? Shouldn’t there be compassion???

And believe me, I’m not the only one this happened to!

I don’t know who made the rule that FEMA noncompliant people should be denied help from NY Rising, but common sense and the basic principles of humanity dictate that this is a rule which should be changed.

I wrote an appeal to Seth Diamond, head of NY Rising, on June 26. Here it is:

Dear Mr. Diamond,

I’m a victim of Sandy¸ sustaining over $125,000 in loss. I was told that NY Rising was supposed to be the last resort for people who “fell through the cracks” – unable to get funding from other sources. I was declared “noncompliant” by FEMA, though I appealed twice and am still convinced I could do no more than I did after Hurricane Irene with the knowledge that I had at the time. I couldn’t continue to appeal with FEMA because I kept getting the same letter back stamped “noncompliant” and it felt like no one was listening. So I applied for NY Rising, and patiently waited. I even got an award letter, months back. But now my case worker says I can’t get any aid because I am on FEMA’s “noncompliant” list.

I don’t understand why this has anything to do with FEMA’s requirements. This is a separate program, designed to help people who haven’t been helped. Even if they were right, in the name of all reason and compassion, wouldn’t NY Rising want to help a single mother who lost so much?

I received $1300 after Irene, for a new oil tank. There was a lot more damage, but the oil tank was all FEMA would cover. Little did I know that just over a year later that oil tank would be washed away in Sandy.

The provision with FEMA was to get flood insurance. I tried, but my insurance agent said that I couldn’t get it because the house wasn’t in my name (it belonged to my aunt, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s.)  Just yesterday a nice woman at FEMA told me that it’s the property that needs the flood insurance, not me. I didn’t know that, and apparently neither did my broker!!! Also neither did all the FEMA workers in my town after the storm, who took all my documentation about my aunt owning the house and sent it in for my appeals. Absolutely no one told me I was barking up the wrong tree. The house now is in my name, and I have had flood insurance since February 2013. I am insured against future disaster, but I don’t know how I will financially recover from this one if I don’t receive your help.

I went through Irene, and then was hit by Sandy just over a year later. My aunt died, as well as my mother – and my father was gravely ill (he has since passed.) My partner had cancer – and then we broke up from the pressure of Sandy. I’m not trying to throw a pity party, but I’m asking for your mercy here. Is it fair that I receive NOTHING because I misunderstood the rules about flood insurance? I’ve never been a home owner until now- and there’s nothing like trying to deal with a devastated home. I’m not asking for any more than anyone else – but I AM asking for something. Even if the noncompliant ruling is correct, why must I damned to nothing? It was a misunderstanding. After all we’ve been through, I’m asking for some compassion.

Will you help me?


Selene Castrovilla

I am still waiting to hear back.



Comments (10)

  1. Jen Halligan

    Ohmigosh, Selene! I can’t believe this is still going on… or that so many people in your town that should have had the knowledge to guide you, obviously did not. I hope you hear back from Mr. Diamond. Keep me posted. Sending love and positive thoughts your way!

  2. Kerryn Reilly

    I am so sorry for all of your loss and the fact that you are still dealing with this as well. I have also been deemed FEMA non-compliant because I received assistance after Irene and didn’t receive the letter stating I needed to get flood insurance. NY Rising send me an initial award letter and now I am ineligible to receive anything. My house needs to be knocked down, elevated, and rebuilt and am completely beside myself. If you hear anything can you please let me know? Good luck.

  3. Liz McCabe

    I have also just been notified by NY Rising that I am no longer eligible due to FEMA non-compliance.
    Apparently after FEMA helped us out following Irene, we were required to obtain flood insurance. I do not recall ever receiving such notification. I wanted to obtain flood insurance (even without the knowledge that it was required), but I could not afford it. I had already maxed out my credit cards trying to put my flooded home back together. If I could have paid for flood insurance on a monthly pay schedule, I would have been willing and able. However, for some reason, flood insurance must be paid in full and in advance. Where was I going to come up with $3500? I was completely wiped out financially and had just finished my post-Irene kitchen when Sandy hit. I (desperately and reluctantly) refinanced the mortgage on my home in October, 2013 and I have had flood insurance since then. But because I did not purchase it before Sandy, I am deemed ineligible for NY Rising. What a great disappointment. I do not have a sense of entitlement about these things but I sure could have used that money to pay off all of this debt. I fear I will not be able to keep up with this new mortgage and may lose my home in foreclosure. So much for helping those in need. I feel your pain and I would be interested to know if you ever receive a worthy reply in response to your letter, though I doubt it will happen.

  4. Dave

    In June of 2013, I applied to NY Rising with hopes of a buyout and was told by NY Rising that buyouts have not been decided for my area as of yet but was granted $300,000 to rebuild my home at 10 Isabella St Rotterdam Junction, NY 12150. I had hopes of this happening but then was told that because I had at one time applied to buy a replacement home but refused a loan from S.B.A for $117,000 they determined that it was a duplication of funds even though I did not take the loan? They had to deduct that from my grant. My case worker from NY Rising had me write a letter of hardship and she was to submit it to FEMA. After about a month, I was told by my case worker that I had to give the grant back to them until FEMA makes a determination and then I could re-apply. What a joke NY Rising has been and would love for someone to look into this for me. I can not get my case work to return my call its like NY Rising just plain old forgot about us.

  5. Kim Cerqua

    i am in the same situation. Looking for a lawyer. Have anyone hired one?

  6. Dawn Marie

    I am also in the same situation. My house flooded & was substantially damaged in both Irene and Sandy. I only received $2,000 in Irene and nothing at all in Sandy. I live on the water in AE Flood zone 7 my block floods all of the time. My home desperately needs to be lifted. They didn’t offer us $ to lift in Irene – so shouldn’t the NY Rising lift $ be offered to us since it covers both Irene and Sandy? We need to get all of the non complaint together and fight this. Obviously the ones in the worst flood areas flooded in both Irene and Sandy. We are the ones who need our homes lifted asap.

  7. Dawn Marie

    Please contact me if there is any new hope for the non-compliant. Thank you.

    1. Kim

      Hofstra law school has a clinic. They are helping me with the non compliance and my rising. I actually received 50,000 from them and after I paid off sandy debt the recalled the grant. Lawyers looking into FEMA changing the non compliance. Hope this hellps.

      1. Matt Dazzo

        We are now being asked to repay all our money back to NY Rising. I was wondering if you have any info that might help us fight NY Rising? Thanks Matt

        1. Selene Castrovilla (Post author)

          Hi Matt,

          I wish I could help you. I never got anywhere with them. I’m so sorry. I think you should contact the media and let them know your situation. Also, have you contacted a lawyer? I feel for you…



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