FEMA denies disaster aid for San Bruno againBy Joshua Melvin
Federal disaster officials have again denied a request for millions of dollars in aid for the city ravaged last month by a deadly natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 35 homes.
State officials got word Thursday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had turned down an appeal from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from an earlier denial of federal aid for San Bruno, California Emergency Management Agency official Tom Maruyama said.
FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said late Thursday it was determined that additional federal money was not necessary. In its original denial on Sept. 24, FEMA said state and local resources had not been overwhelmed by the blast and fire.
Racusen said FEMA will reimburse up to 75 percent of the firefighting costs from the incident.
"We are very disappointed in this decision," Councilman Michael Salazar said. "At this point, we have not fully determined the cost of the fire, so this decision seems premature."
The news came out during a town-hall meeting led by state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner on the difficulties and rights people have when making insurance claims. At least 50 people packed a room at Crestmoor Elementary School in order to ask questions and get answers.
One of them was Jerry Guernsey, whose home on Concord Way was destroyed in the flames. Guernsey had spent his life collecting racing memorabilia, but also had stamp, coin and bottle collections. So far, he has a 22-page list of lost items he had prepared as part of his insurance claim.
"Do I have to list every little wrench?" asked Guernsey, who also lost a 1957 Chevy he had spent years restoring.
Deputy insurance commissioner Tony Cignarale recommended Guernsey be as detailed as possible. He added that generally people have about a year to tell their insurance company what has been destroyed, but urged him not to wait too long.
Before fielding questions, Cignarale encouraged all fire victims to file claims with their companies if they have not done so yet. People who file late can have problems later in the process. He also said everyone should have the full text of their policy. The document must be turned over by insurance companies within 30 days of receiving a request from policy holders.
Finally, he urged people to get organized and save receipts for all costs associated with the explosion. Some companies may not require them, but they provide proof if a claim is disputed.
In his comments, Poizner told fire survivors the recovery process is not as impossible as it seems.
"The odds seem insurmountable when you lose your home," Poizner said. "People do rebuild their lives. It is possible."
Fire victims who have trouble with their insurance company can call the state insurance department for help at 800-927-HELP (4357) or visit www.insurance.ca.gov.
Copyright ©2010 San Mateo County Times. Published 10/28/2010.