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FEMA payments may not come for some without flood insurance

Agency on standby in case of presidential disaster declaration

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Some who received individual disaster payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency following the city’s historic flood of 2008 may not be eligible for such payments if they are needed after this week’s flood.

Those who received such a FEMA payment — which reached as much as about $28,000 for a homeowner in 2008 — and then renovated and stayed in their homes were required by federal law to obtain and maintain flood insurance on their property if the property sits in the 100-year flood plain, Michael Cappannari, FEMA’s Region VII external affairs director, said on Monday.

He said no new disaster payments can go to those who are required by FEMA to have insurance but don’t have it. The federal directive is designed so private insurance — not federal dollars — pays for disaster relief for properties at risk of renewed flooding.

He said the insurance requirement is attached to the property, so a subsequent owner of a residence who received a FEMA disaster payment in 2008 also would be required to have insurance.

In addition, the same insurance requirement applies to renters and the contents of their property if they received individual disaster payments in 2008 as renters and continued to live at the same address in the 100-year flood plain, he said.

Cappannari said the insurance requirement should not come as a surprise because FEMA, as a standard practice, provides written notice to disaster survivors that such an insurance requirement comes with accepting disaster assistance money.

It is too early to decide who may or may not qualify for individual disaster payments as it is too soon to know how bad the current flooding in Cedar Rapids and elsewhere in Eastern Iowa will be, Cappannari said.

For now, FEMA has activated a Regional Response Coordination Center at the agency’s Kansas City, Mo., office from which officials are monitoring floodwaters in real time in Cedar Rapids and Palo and elsewhere in Eastern Iowa.

In addition, Cappannari said the agency has put an instant management assistance team on standby should Gov. Terry Branstad seek a presidential disaster declaration for Cedar Rapids and elsewhere in Iowa the days and weeks ahead.

Branstad said Monday he anticipates he will do so.

Such a request would prompt a preliminary assessment to see if the extent of flood damage qualifies for a federal declaration. FEMA officials along with state and county emergency management officials would take part in a damage assessment, Cappannari said.

With a presidential disaster declaration in place, residents then would be able to apply for individual disaster assistance through FEMA, while communities could apply for public assistance.

Registration for such assistance, for example, has been extended to the victims of recent flooding in Louisiana, and registration for those victims can be done online and via telephone.

Cappannari said individual assistance awards nationwide average between $4,000 and $5,000.

FEMA officials who are monitoring Eastern Iowa flooding are “very impressed” with the work that has gone on in Cedar Rapids and elsewhere in the past few days to attempt to hold back the floods and protect residents and businesses, he said.

He noted that communities can get reimbursed by FEMA for certain emergency protection measures during a flood. But he added it is too soon to discuss what costs might qualify.

At a Monday morning news conference, Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz estimated that the city will have spent between $5 million and $6 million to construct emergency barriers along the Cedar River to try to prevent damage from the flooding. The river is scheduled to crest on Tuesday at its second highest level ever in Cedar Rapids, though the crest is expected to be eight feet lower than the city’s 2008 flood disaster.

Pomeranz said the cost over a few days to install temporary protection points out how necessary it is for the city to secure Congressional funding to help construct the city’s permanent flood protection system. That system currently is being built in phases with state and local money. Congress has authorized the project, but Congress has not appropriated money to help pay for the work.

Mayor Ron Corbett said the city had installed 9.8 miles of temporary flood protection in the last two days. The protection has included sand-filled, stackable, basket barriers and earthen berms, he said.

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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