Lack of flood insurance challenges West Seneca residents - The Buffalo News
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Lack of flood insurance challenges West Seneca residents

Jonny Robbins dropped the flood insurance on his West Seneca home four months ago, he said, after the latest Federal Emergency Management Agency maps placed his property outside of the risk zone.

Last weekend, part of the foundation of his Gregory Lane home collapsed as ice and floodwaters from nearby Buffalo Creek swirled outside, and the basement filled with water after the sump pump burned out.

“When I saw ... the wall, I almost cried because I knew we were screwed,” said Robbins, a retired teacher.

By comparison, you might count Brian Holleran among the lucky ones. Though the basement and ground floor of his Lexington Green home were inundated with water, he has flood insurance.

It’s a tale of flood insurance haves and have-nots in West Seneca, where an estimated 70 homes, and more than two dozen vehicles, were damaged when last Saturday’s warmup sent Buffalo Creek over its banks, pushing chest-deep water and chunks of ice throughout the neighborhood off Mineral Springs Road.

People started calling 911 at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday; the situation quickly grew dire.

“They took me out in a boat,” said Norma Gasz, of Lexington Green.

Gasz doesn’t have flood insurance, either. She said she had it for decades, “then it went up so high.”

As a result, she will bear the costs of the new furnace, hot water tank, and washer and dryer that were installed last week, as well as the cost of the cleanup.

Flood insurance typically is mandated by banks if you have a mortgage or home-equity loan and live in a flood zone.

The National Flood Insurance Program, which sets the terms for coverage, caps dwelling coverage at $250,000. Insuring contents is an additional cost.

Supplemental homeowner’s insurance can be purchased to cover some water-related damage – such as a burst pipe, but water infiltration from a flood is not covered.

Holleran’s flood insurance has a $5,000 deductible, but at least it will cover some of the cost of replacing the furnace, hot water tank and sump pump that were destroyed in his recently renovated basement.

Robbins is facing a much more daunting bill. His repair costs have been estimated at between $30,000 and $50,000, he said.

“I paid flood insurance for 31 years,” Robbins said. “Never had a drop of water in the basement except for once, (when) my sump pump failed.”

Robbins explained: “It got to be so expensive – well over $2,000.”

Once his property no longer was on the flood map, Robbins said, his insurance company told him he didn’t have to have flood insurance.

“And then this happened,” he said.

Gasz said she had 18 inches of water in her basement in 1979, when the sump pump failed. Last weekend, there was about 30 inches.

“This time, the water came through a crack in the wall,” she said. “It was coming in like Niagara Falls.”

Some 150 firefighters from 18 departments spent all day Sunday pumping water from basements.

For days afterward, the driveways and streets in the neighborhood were filled with contractor and utility company vehicles. A swing arm garbage truck was used to pick up sodden carpeting, furniture and other household debris left curbside.

Building inspectors from West Seneca were helped by their counterparts from several other communities as they went door to door, assessing damage to each home.

Town Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan spent the week reaching out to elected officials, trying to get some help for residents. “They are not promising anything, but they’re helping us,” she said Friday.

Meegan noted that Lockport property owners received $2.27 million from the state’s flood aid program last year, when a flash flood caused by heavy rain overwhelmed the city’s sewer system, filling basements with water.

Town officials met Friday afternoon to talk about the flood damage assessments and related issues but declined to release their findings until a public meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Winchester Community Church for residents affected by the flooding.

Neither Robbins nor Holleran was home when it hit.

Robbins said his wife, Linda, was out with their daughter, and he was on his way home from the airport, following a trip to Florida. He saw emergency vehicles blocking the street leading to his home and was told he couldn’t enter.

It wasn’t until Sunday that he saw the destruction.

Building inspectors have deemed the house uninhabitable for now. Robbins said he’s been staying with his daughter; his wife took a previously scheduled trip out of town.

Holleran and his fiancee, Denise Becker, said they were out Saturday night when they got phone calls about evacuations in their neighborhood. After spending several nights in a hotel, they returned home Wednesday.

“This is worse than I thought it was,” Holleran said, as cleanup crews worked in the basement and the ground-floor family room, which also was renovated during the past six months.

Outside, the force and weight of the ice had flattened part of the chain-link fence that spans the backyard. That isn’t covered by the flood insurance, Holleran noted.

Residents have countless stories, sometimes told with a catch in their voices, about cherished mementoes and collectibles that were destroyed. But they found reasons to be thankful, too.

“At least it’s not on my first floor; you’ve got to look on the bright side,” Gasz said.

“The upside is no one got hurt,” said Holleran, with Becker adding: “These are just materialistic things that can be replaced.”


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