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Flood victims left without insurance

After heavy rains flooded the Cavalier Apartments in east Charlotte on Wednesday, many ground-floor residents who lost their belongings could reassure themselves: At least they had flood insurance.

In the last few days, several residents have learned they apparently don't even have that.

At least nine Cavalier residents have told apartment managers they thought they had active flood insurance policies provided by the county – but have been told the policies won't take effect for another two weeks, county Storm Water Services Director Dave Canaan said Saturday.

Canaan, whose department oversaw the offer, said county officials had thought the policies were in effect. Two residents told the Observer on Saturday that they'd filled out and signed the policy applications in the spring.

“It appears that somewhere along the line there may have been a delay in processing payments,” Canaan said. “I don't know if papers sat on somebody's desk for too long, or people filled out the paperwork too late or what. I do know we'll do a review, on a case-by-case basis, of every resident who says they don't have insurance but thought they did.”

That review will begin Tuesday, he said.

Canaan said the county will examine how it might compensate those residents who filled out their paperwork properly and on time, perhaps through grants or low-interest loans. It's unclear how much, if any, that might cost.

The mistake is just another blow to residents who lived on the ground floor.

“I'm trying not to get angry, because it's the kind of stuff that makes you want to bash someone's head in,” said Akira Darroux, a Cavalier resident who said he knows of at least 30 residents who thought they were covered but aren't. “But I feel I've been deceived.” Darroux said he turned in his paperwork in May.

Of the 96 first-floor units, only 56 were still occupied Wednesday, and the county announced Friday that those were unsafe to occupy because of the flood damage, which rendered an estimated 338 residences countywide uninhabitable. Officials gave residents a 5 p.m. today deadline to clear their belongings out of the units..

On Saturday, people walked in and out of dank, smelly apartments, carrying the precious few items the floodwaters hadn't ruined.

Everyone knew how risky it was to live in Cavalier and Doral Apartments, a complex just across Briar Creek.

The county in June paid nearly $10million, most of it federal money, for the 192-unit Cavalier complex, which sits in a floodplain next to the creek. The purchase was part of a county program to buy properties in flood-prone areas, pay to relocate the residents and turn the property into park land or retention ponds. The county intended to tear the complex down by mid-2009.

When it bought the Cavalier complex, the county offered to pay for residents' flood insurance from The Hartford as long as they filled out the proper paperwork. An undetermined number took the county up on its offer. In the meantime, a real estate firm and a relocation company, hired by the county, began supplying residents with lists of available, comparable apartments.

Residents could contact the relocation firm, THC Inc., about applying for county flood insurance, Canaan said. THC, an Atlanta company with an office in Charlotte, handled at least some of the paperwork, as did the county, he said. THC officials couldn't be reached for comment Saturday.

Then the complex flooded Wednesday, and residents who called The Hartford were told that the policies were on file. But they said the paperwork hadn't been turned in until mid-August – which, factoring in a 30-day waiting period, means the policies won't take effect until mid-September.

“It's not my fault the policy wasn't turned in until August when I signed it in June,” said Jerome Nelson, a first-floor Cavalier resident who had more than 5 feet of water in his apartment Wednesday. “Why would it take 60 days for it just to be faxed off to be processed?

“I thought if something happened, at least I'd be compensated for what I lost. That's not the case. They're giving us the runaround.”

Residents clearing out the wreckage of their apartments Saturday said they were depending on the insurance to cover what they lost – in some cases family heirlooms.

“This radio has been in my family for four generations,” said Darrin Blackwell, pointing to a soaked Zenith cabinet radio the size of a small refrigerator. “And my generation had to be the one to screw it up.”

Blackwell, a Central Piedmont Community College student, spent $300 this month on textbooks the water ruined. He's studying counseling and social work, “but today, I'm a client,” he said. “It's bad. It's really bad.”