CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Since Hurricane Ian hit, FEMA has given out more than a billion dollars in financial help to storm victims. But there are some situations that leave homeowners to pay for losses out of pocket.
ABC Action News' Stassy Olmos met a Cape Coral homeowner who was in the process of moving to Florida from Minnesota when Hurricane Ian hit; now she fears she may lose it all.
“We had about six and a half inches of water, and here you can see that all the paint is starting to bubble in and peel…” Tammy Vetter said as she walked ABC Action News through her first home on Lorraine Ct.
Vetter bought the Lorraine Ct. home in February of 2022. She and her husband have slowly been transitioning their jobs and lives to the Sunshine State.
Then in August, they discovered what they refer to as their “forever home,” up for sale just down the street. They listed their first home for sale and closed on the second home five days before Hurricane Ian hit.
The storm flooded both of the homes.
Outside of her first home sits piles of furniture and mattresses ruined by the flood waters.
Outside of her forever home sits a leaning power pole and downed lines in the front and small fish swimming in her pool in the back. She showed where the pressure from the storm cracked parts of the interior ceiling, blew out a bathroom window, and insulation from the vents.
Unfortunately, Vetter said she hadn’t been able to adjust her property insurance on the new home yet, so the coverage is minimal.
Vetter showed ABC Action News an email from her broker eight days before the storm where he stated, “After the dust settles with closing, we can review your coverages a little more in-depth to make sure it’s what you want. For now, all lender requirements should be satisfied.”
ABC Action News' Olmos reached out to the broker via email to ask if he was not able to fulfill Vetter’s insurance requests prior to closing and why? He responded, simply saying, “No.”
While the first home has both flood and homeowners coverage through Bankers, it doesn’t have personal property coverage.
“And because we just bought this house in February, almost everything is brand new,” Vetter explained.
After the storm, she waited nearly four hours in the FEMA line at the disaster recovery center in Ft Myers only to be told that she didn’t qualify for their assistance.
“We were told by FEMA, because we're not legal residents here yet that they won’t help us,” Vetter said.
She and her family have been cleaning the two homes themselves, trying to fix what they can, but they can’t afford to pay the deductibles between both homes, which Vetter said cost almost $40,000 dollars.
“That's all I could think of,” she said as she wiped tears from her eyes. “I've been working since I was 13 years old, and it's like everything is to be gone.”
ABC Action News went to FEMA to ask about Vetter’s situation. A spokesperson said that in a complicated circumstance like this, homeowners may need more documentation and can always file an appeal.
“They would offer a written request to FEMA and to review the file again, and of course, then you're able to go over all of the information, like the explanation that you just provided-- that they’re in-between homes and making that change is oftentimes just a matter of getting the records updated,” explained Bruce Bouch with FEMA.
While Vetter’s story seems like a rare series of unfortunate events, many people will be stuck paying out of pocket after Ian for various reasons, including not having flood insurance, high deductibles, or vacation homes that aren’t covered by FEMA aid.
“Generally, it's a home that you would occupy, now if you have renters that may be in the home, then the services that are available for that as well,” Bouch explained.
AirBnB and VRBO homes are also considered rentals that qualify.
“Hopefully, we can find some programs that will help or, you know, maybe FEMA will start opening it up because I know there's a lot of people that are snowbirds and second homes,” Vetter exclaimed. “You are a part of this community whether if you're down here six months or 12 months.”
Experts advised homeowners and renters to file claims with insurance as well as FEMA, even if they don’t think you qualify.
You can file online here or go to a disaster recovery center; if the line is too long -- you can go to any of their centers-- it doesn’t have to be in your county. You can also download the FEMA app on a smartphone and follow the process of your application there.
In addition, homeowners and renters can apply for loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, you don’t have to own a business. Homeowners can get up to $200,000 dollars to replace or repair a primary residence. Homeowners and renters can get up to $40,000 for personal property.
You can apply for an SBA loan at a disaster recovery center or online here.