Flood insurance crisis has makings of a Hollywood disaster movie

Let's think of this in Hollywood terms. A disaster movie with stars galore.

It can begin in any number of ways. With a hurricane in New Orleans, and another in New Jersey. It can segue to the U.S. Capitol where members of Congress are passing federal disaster legislation, even though they have no concept of the ramifications.

Finally, as the opening credits roll, the camera soars above a bay and zooms past beachfront homes. It travels past schools, parks and churches before crossing the threshold of a three-bedroom home in a working-class neighborhood far from the docks and waterfront views.

That's where you see a couple at a kitchen table staring at a bill from the National Flood Insurance Program that they can no longer afford.

Just imagine where the movie goes from there. Tens of thousands of homes at risk. The real estate market and local economy in peril. Politicians too heartless or powerless to help.

The story would be driven not by action, but by outrage. The increasing exasperation of regular folks who are given excuses instead of answers by those in positions of power.

There would be the obligatory disclaimer about it being a fictional story and any similarities to characters or events being coincidental, but the insinuations will be clear.

The president: He won't get a lot of screen time, and he won't come across as very sympathetic. He is mostly aloof. Preoccupied. Like the Wizard of Oz without a curtain. He will talk to aides as if this was a problem created in Congress, and beyond his reach. When he exits the scene, his aides will question how the president can justify delaying provisions of health care legislation while ignoring a flood insurance crisis.

The senators: One young, one old. One conservative, one liberal. One with presidential ambitions, and one nearing a career's end. The older senator is both optimistic and sincere. Unfortunately, his efforts are largely ineffectual. The younger senator is all flash and no substance. It doesn't occur to him that while he is shamelessly promoting himself, some of his constituents are facing financial disaster.

The governor: Cold and cynical. He offers no solutions and can barely feign concern. He sees this not as a crisis for his residents, but as an opportunity to attack his nemesis, the president.

The state's attorney general: Given the chance to fight on behalf of residents with a lawsuit alleging FEMA took shortcuts on the way to insane flood insurance prices, she declines. Instead she wastes time and money by appealing unrelated nuisance lawsuits to score political points.

State legislators: A couple of well-meaning lawmakers try to circumvent the oncoming crisis created by the federal government, but it's clear their work will not rescue all of the homeowners facing ruin by the movie's end.

Residents: They are nameless. Faceless. Helpless and hopeless. They are mostly middle class and completely vulnerable. Their mistake was not anticipating that Congress would toss aside 30 years of precedent with virtually no warning or understanding of the implications involved.

So that's it. That's the gist of the movie.

In the span of 500 words you have stony villains and rundown victims. You have heartache greeted by indifference. You have almost everything a blockbuster needs.

The only things lacking are heroes and happy endings.

Flood insurance crisis has makings of a Hollywood disaster movie 01/18/14 [Last modified: Saturday, January 18, 2014 7:20pm]

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