On a cold rainy day last fall, dozens of people gathered in a plaza across the street from New Jersey's state Capitol. They held press conferences and slept overnight in lawn chairs.
Everyone had come to make the same point: They'd made it through Superstorm Sandy, which hit the shores of New Jersey and New York in October 2012. But three years later, many hadn't made it home.
Doug Quinn, a 51-year-old from Toms River, N.J., had been in the plaza for two days.
"I should be at home in my house and part of my community and instead I'm here doing this," said Quinn. "I thought it'll be all right; my insurance will take care of what needs to be taken care of and I'll be back home in three to four months. It's [been] three years and I'm still not anywhere close. I look back now and think how naive I was."
NPR and the PBS series Frontline have spent the past year investigating the business of disaster and have uncovered a complex system in which private companies profit and homeowners and clients suffer.
At the center of that system is the National Flood Insurance Program, which is designed to help in disasters like Sandy. Almost everyone with a mortgage who lives near water pays for flood insurance through the program, so more than three years later most residents expected to be home.
But in many cases that didn't happen. While thousands of homeowners like Quinn said they have not received the recovery help they need, our investigation found that their private insurance companies that administer the government's flood program made as much as an estimated $240 million to $406 million in profit annually over the past four years.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, has long been concerned with compensation practices of flood insurance companies. In 2014, she called on the Government Accountability Office to study federal payments to insurers and how they relate to actual expenses incurred by those insurers. GAO is currently conducting the study.