Connecticut

Lawmakers Make Another Push For Expanded FEMA Assistance for Tornado Clean-Up

With many left to foot the bill for getting rid of fallen trees and large stumps not covered by homeowners' insurance, Connecticut's federal delegation of lawmakers is reintroducing the DEBRIS Act.

While New Haven and Fairfield County cities and towns hit hard by the May 2018 tornadoes and storms are receiving federal disaster funding to cover public expenses, FEMA denied providing aid for individual property owners.

With many left to foot the bill for getting rid of fallen trees and large stumps not covered by homeowners' insurance, Connecticut's federal delegation of lawmakers is reintroducing the DEBRIS Act (Diversifying Emergency Benchmarks for the Recovery of Individuals after Storms).

“We’re all a little apprehensive now when they say a bad storm is coming because now it could happen again,” Roberta Guarino of Hamden said.

Scars of the May 2018 Hamden tornado can still be seen in her backyard.

"And you could hear the wind against your house taking the trees down, the slamming of the trees on the ground it was really scary,” Guarino said, recalling the afternoon of May 15, 2018.

Around her property, there are still piles of cut up logs.

“Friends are coming and taking the wood because we have tons and tons of chopped wood,” Guarino said.

It has cost her family about $25,000 for tree removal, only partly covered by insurance, Guarino said.

"That’s the necessary trees they had to take down that were going to fall on the house or on the driveway and they had to take those down,” she explained.

Many of her neighbors have been left top pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for clearing away large stumps and fallen trees that did not damage a home.

“Because homeowner insurance typically fails to cover this kind of debris removal and the federal government has turned a blind eye to it which is unfair unjust unacceptable,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) said during a Monday morning press conference on October Hill Road in Hamden.

The lawmakers said the legislation they are reintroducing as Congress finalizes the federal budget for FY 2020 would let FEMA included fallen trees and debris in individual damage assessments and homeowners could be reimbursed.

“The relief process is not always working for our community members if it is blocking them from the support they need,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) said.

Mayor Curt Leng (D-Hamden) shared an example of one costly estimate a resident of his town received.

"Actually had one older woman that had an estimate of between $50 to $75,000 of damage of just trees and tree removal in her yard,” he said.

Guarino said she's hopeful the DEBRIS Act gains enough support to pass in the U.S. House and Senate.

“That would be such a huge, huge help to all of us, my neighbors, to have that covered,” she said.

A year later, Guarino said her family still feels lucky.

"My son-in-law said it best, we didn’t go to any funerals," she said. "But if you were here the next day you would have thought, we couldn’t believe that people survived, we couldn’t believe it.”

A wood plaque commemorating the May 2018 tornado in the hard hit Hamden neighborhood says it best: "We are all here."

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