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'It's just been a mess.' Flood insurance drama for elderly St. Clair Co. woman

PHOTO GALLERY: Ice blockage along St. Clair River in East China Township
Posted at 1:27 PM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 18:33:36-05

ALGONAC, Mich. (WXYZ) — Ice jams caused severe flooding in St. Clair County earlier this month, leaving dozens of homeowners under water and frustrated. One local grandmother says she was devastated when she was told her flood insurance was no longer valid.

Bonnie Bell-Rublico once loved her Algonac home that sits right on the St. Clair River, but lately, she’s been having doubts about its prime location.

Related: US, Canada coast guards working to ease flooding at St. Clair River

“This was our dream retirement home and it has turned into a nightmare,” Bonnie said.

When ice jams suddenly pushed water levels drastically higher on Feb. 2, frigid water started flooding Bonnie’s garage and home.

“There was no warning whatsoever,” said Bonnie. “It looked like someone had turned on a faucet.”

Related: Flooding aftermath of the ice jams on the St. Clair River: One family's story

Now the 73-year-old widow can’t get out of her house because her yard is frozen solid. And that’s not all. Bonnie’s water heater, lawnmower, snowblower, and other appliances were surrounded by frozen floodwaters that she says got as high as 12 inches. It’s damage Bonnie says she can’t afford to repair.

“It’s just been a mess,” said Bonnie.

Fortunately, back in 2019, Bonnie bought flood insurance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But when she called to file a claim, Bonnie says she got some shocking news from the insurance adjuster.

“He told me that anyone who bought flood insurance from 2019 and thereafter would not be covered because it was a flood plain,” said Bonnie. “That is a hardship that I cannot afford.”

That’s when Bonnie’s daughter, Melissa, called the 7 Investigators.

“I said if anybody can get to the bottom of this, it’s got to be Channel 7,” said Melissa Majchrzak.

Melissa says during the last two years, her mom has paid $1,038 for her policy with the National Flood Insurance Program.

“This is people’s livelihood, and there are a lot of people that are as least as bad off as mom and a lot of people that are way worse,” said Melissa. “If they can’t depend on their insurance, what do they have?”

Melissa says the adjuster told her mom that FEMA issued something called a “Flood in Progress” memo for the area, which would mean the claim would not be covered. But when she asked the adjuster to share the memo, he would not share it. He also wouldn’t share that “Flood in Progress” memo with the 7 Investigators.

During a phone call with the insurance adjuster, he never denied telling Bonnie there was a Flood in Progress. But when we asked why he told her that, he said he was uncomfortable with the conversation and hung up.

As for the alleged Flood in Progress memo? FEMA officials say it doesn’t exist for Bonnie’s location in Algonac. Which means her insurance claim can and should be evaluated.

There are certain exclusions for flood insurance, but FEMA officials say policy owners should always file a claim because they are all evaluated on an individual basis.

“That took me by surprise, I was like – wow I haven’t heard of that one,” said St. Clair County Emergency Management Deputy Director Mark White about the alleged Flood in Progress issue.

White says if anyone else with flooding damage was told there’s a Flood in Progress memo and your claim won’t be honored, the county would like to hear from you. Please also contact us at tips@wxyz.com.

“Review your policy, make sure everything’s up to date. If you have questions, by all means, you can reach out to our office to provide assistance,” said White.

The county is also encouraging flood victims to fill out this self-report survey about the damage, even if you have flood insurance. They’re keeping track of this emergency and want to keep the state and the feds in the loop on just how much damage occurred during the ice jam event.

As for Bonnie, as soon as the 7 Investigators started asking questions, Melissa says the insurance adjuster is now processing Bonnie’s claim.

“Hopefully somebody steps up and gets this problem fixed,” said Melissa.

Here is more information on the National Flood Insurance Program, NFIP, from FEMA:

Over the last 10 years, 34% of flood insurance claims in Michigan come from areas identified as low- to moderate risk. This percentage is lower than we see nationally or in some other states in the region because most flood insurance policies in Michigan are issued in areas identified as higher-risk, consequently, flood insurance is required as a condition of a federally-backed mortgage.

It is important to note that anyone (homeowners—both primary and non-primary residences, renters, and business owners) who are in a participating community can purchase flood insurance. Flood insurance premiums start as low as $500/year for up to $250,000 in building coverage and $100,000 in contents coverage. To find out if your community participates in the NFIP, call your local building official or check out the Community Status Book at https://www.fema.gov/cis/MI.pdf

A flood insurance policy in an important part of financially protecting homes and property from flood damage. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program or NFIP makes flood insurance available to communities that agree to adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations. As long as the community participates in the NFIP, any homeowner, business owner or renter located in that community can purchase flood insurance coverage.

When a new flood policy is purchased or changes are made to an existing policy, it generally takes 30 days from the date of purchase or change in coverage for a flood insurance policy to become effective. The NFIP pays policyholders according to the terms and conditions of their policy; however, under the standard flood insurance policy there are some exclusions that may apply, such as flood in progress. When a flood begins before a policy takes effect, damage from that flood may be excluded from coverage.

Whether or not a flood is in progress, the claim is evaluated on an individual basis. Policyholders should always file a claim if their property has sustained damage, and work with their insurance company and adjuster to address specific loss questions. Additionally, if a policyholder receives a denial letter to the claim filed, they have the right to file an appeal to FEMA within 60 days of the date of the letter. For additional information about the claim appeals process, visit: https://www.floodsmart.gov/flood/appeal-your-claim-payment

For more information about FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program or flood insurance coverage you can visitwww.FloodSmart.gov or www.fema.gov/flood-insurance