Seven weeks ago, Stephen Drimalas hopped in his Honda and escaped with his life through rising floodwaters in Ocean Breeze, Staten Island. The storm surge reached eight feet on his block, swamping his modest home, pushing several houses off their foundations and drowning an elderly neighbor who lived across the street.
Drimalas lost everything, and has been staying in different places almost every night: with a friend, in a motel room paid by FEMA, in his car. Throughout the ordeal, he’s been determined to rebuild. "I want to stay here,” he said. “It's nice. And, you know, this is mine. I own it. I do what I want with it."
But after weeks of battling insurance companies, including the FEMA-administered National Flood Insurance, his determination is fraying. His homeowner’s policy only paid out $1,170, and National Flood won’t say when it will be settling his claim. So Drimalas, who’s lived in his home in Staten Island for seven years, is thinking of moving to Florida.
FEMA spokesman Don Caetano wouldn't comment on Drimalas' case, citing privacy concerns. He says National Flood Insurance has received about 55,000 claims related to Sandy. He doesn't know how many of those have been settled but he says $463 million has been paid out so far.
“$463 million?,” Drimalas said when told of the number. “Well I don't know where it went but none came my way."