James Hill was sitting in his Piermont apartment with his ex-girlfriend and their son watching the news while Superstorm Sandy hit Rockland back in October when their power went out.
Hill, wearing sandals, walked outside to turn on the generator and get their power back on. It was completely dark outside, so it took until he stepped off his porch to first realize the full extent of the storm, as he was then knee-deep in water.
He ran back upstairs to get boots and a flashlight so he could turn on the generator. The driveway continued to fill with water, so he started moving the cars uphill. His large truck was fine, but the water was so high as soon as he opened the door to his grandmother’s smaller vehicle, water started pouring into the car.
“I ended up losing my motorcycle,” Hill said. “Eventually I got extension cords and wires hanging from the ceiling in the basement so I could hook up the generator and start the sump pumps.”
That didn’t last too long either, though, as water poured into the basement, knocking the door partially off the hinges. The basement was nearly packed with water standing more than six-feet high, almost completely overflowing onto the house ground-floor. The water stopped just before reaching the top of the top step leading from the ground floor to the basement.
“It the water was another inch or so higher, the bottom floor of the house would’ve been completely submerged,” Hill said.
Hill lives in the Piermont apartment upstairs in his grandparents’ house. His grandparents, Veronica and James Artrip, were in Florida when the storm him. Veronica Artrip said they try to get down to Florida, especially later in the year as the cold weather isn’t good for her husband’s back.
Since the storm, the family has tried multiple times a week to reach out to their insurance company, Hartford Insurance Company, without much luck. Veronica Artrip estimated that she’s called the company at least once a week since the storm hit, although most weeks she said it’s two or three times. So far they’ve received a $10,000 emergency check, which she said went to a hot water heater, boiler and completely rewiring the basement.
Their estimates for damage assessment are about $65,000. They’ve also noticed black mold growing in their basement.
“I was begging for help and I was telling them about the black mold forming and that we were getting sick and that we couldn’t live like this,” she said. “But still, we haven’t heard.”
After not getting much help, they reached out to State Sen. David Carlucci. On Wednesday, Carlucci set up a walkthrough of the home for reporters and talked about new legislation that would set up a time requirement for insurance companies to respond to residents after a natural disaster.
“We should not have to have a crew of cameras, a senator at the front door step demanding that insurance companies simply do their job,” Carlucci said. “What we’ve seen in this case is the insurance companies, I believe, are purposely delaying. They’re purposely dragging their feet, hoping that Veronica won’t do her due diligence and keep calling, but she shouldn’t have to do that. And that’s why it’s important that we put into state law the timeline that insurance companies have to respond when there’s a natural disaster.”
He said the new timeline would give insurance companies six days following a disaster to start investigating claims, and they’d then have 15 days to let residents know if the claim will go through or not.
“That’s the problem,” Carlucci said. “With Veronica and James, they can’t move on because they’re concerned about whether they’re going to be paid or not. So they have to do and wait and make sure the insurance company does their job so they can get paid and they can pay the contractors to do the job and do it right.”
Carlucci also said mold is a growing problem that people aren’t talking about enough. He said people either ignore it or just paint over it, both of which can have extremely negative impacts on people living in those residences. Carlucci also said they need a mold specialist to come in and work so they not only get rid of the mold properly, but so the specialist can ensure it doesn’t grow back.
“This is black toxic mold that gets into your lungs and is a direct contributor to asthma, so this is a real problem,” Carlucci said. “That’s why we’ve got to do what we can, get on this right away and make sure the insurance companies do their job and pay the victims of Hurricane Sandy immediately, not just so they can get in their house. That’s obviously important. But now we’re talking about a public health issue.”
Hill said the family is still cleaning out the house, and they’ve all had coughs since the storm, although he added he’s not positive it’s from the mold. It took five days of two sump pumps running constantly to full drain the basement.
Since the mold is on the ceiling of the basement, the family isn’t sure if it’s also under the carpet upstairs, which ended up wet from the flooding. Part of the floor under the carpet upstairs has pulled apart or fallen a bit. The bathroom floor sits a bit lower than it did before he storm, and some of the wood floor has buckled a bit.
Veronica and James Artrip have lived in the house since 1977 and Veronica said they’ve had flooding before, but nothing to this extent. She added that they called Carlucci after seeing something on TV that said to call local elected officials if insurance companies weren’t working fast enough. Carlucci, part of a bipartisan task force in the state senate working on Sandy recovery, said they’ve fielded thousands of calls from state residents about storm damage and issues with insurance companies. Veronica Artrip is thankful Carlucci and his staff answered her call and reacted quickly.
“It shows somebody actually cares,” she said. “They’ve been great and they started working with us right away. I know there are people out there worse off than us. But we’re also worse off than we were before too. It’s just such a mess. Every room in the house has something wrong.”