‘They don’t care’: Norco family whose house was destroyed in Ida struggling to get FEMA to pay out
The family has appealed and been denied assistance multiple times because they have insurance. But the settlement doesn’t match the cost.
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Alia Gonzales watched Wednesday as an excavator tore apart what was left of what she describes as her “dream home,” irreparably damaged by Hurricane Ida.
“Getting things, salvaging things, a couple of times we broke down and tried to just keep pushing,” she said, standing beside her husband, Don, and 13-year-old son.
The Norco family evacuated ahead of Ida, taking with them irreplaceable family pictures and other mementos, and getting out of town.
In that regard, they were lucky.
Massive trees fell on the house. Limbs went through the roof and into every room, destroying the home and many of their possessions.
They had just finished renovating the small country home.
“It’s just very upsetting,” Don Gonzales said. “Watching a house I worked on for years. Watching it just get crumbled up and thrown away.”
When the family returned, they contacted FEMA for support. First and foremost, they needed a place to stay while they got things sorted out.
They asked FEMA for a trailer.
“And they told us, ‘No, we can’t give you a trailer,’” Alia Gonzales said. “We lived with our neighbor for two weeks before we decided we’re just gonna purchase a trailer because we were waiting on FEMA.”
The cost of the trailer purchase? A loan for around $40,000.
They got a call from FEMA in November.
“A week before Thanksgiving, FEMA says, ‘Hey, you need a trailer?’,” Alia Gonzales said.
But the family’s hardships didn’t end there.
The demolition of the existing house cost $23,000, and to rebuild would cost more than $250,000.
Their insurance settlement following the hurricane was for $140,000. So, they applied for FEMA assistance to make up for the difference, as the FEMA inspector told them to do.
“Even the inspector flat out said they’re going to deny you,” Alia Gonzales said. “He says, ‘I think it’s wrong, but they’re going to deny you.’”
Deny they did.
Alia is on her fourth appeal of the denial of assistance.
“We pay our taxes, we’re American citizens, we work hard every day. Why do we have to go through this, why is FEMA putting us through this?” she asked. “I just want some help, that’s it. That’s what I want. And I’m trying to get the pieces of my life back.”
A FEMA spokesperson said in an email, “We can confirm that we cannot duplicate insurance benefits.”
But Alia said she and her family aren’t asking for that. They’re asking for FEMA to make them whole.
“My family’s future, my future is in FEMA’s hands,” she said. “I don’t really have a lot of hope. I don’t know what to do after that.”
Fox 8 asked FEMA to clarify whether the agency can give assistance to a family if their insurance settlement does not meet all of their disaster claims, a category in which the Gonzales certainly fit. The inspector that visited the property in October also gave them a paper saying the agency has the ability to do so.
We haven’t heard back.
In the meantime, Alia said she’s going to keep appealing the denial while waiting to hear back on the status of her Small Business Administration (SBA) loan application.
“I just want my simple little farmhouse back, that’s it,” Alia Gonzales said. “That’s all I want out of my life.”
The family has started a GoFundMe to help with the cost of the rebuild.
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