In what could very well take years and not weeks or months, folks in many areas of the Gulf Coast from Florida to Louisiana and in between, slowly are beginning the process of taking inventory of both their lives and their properties in the wake of devastating Hurricane Katrina. The response by the claims industry has been overwhelming in both people and monetary contributions.
According to Atlanta-based Crawford and Company(www.crawfordandcompany.com) CEO and President Tom Crawford, “Our Catastrophe Services Group began deploying adjusters late last week (week of Aug. 22) to Mobile. We have now deployed hundreds of adjusters to Mobile for redeployment to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. We are establishing command centers in Baton Rouge, Mobile, and Hattiesburg. We’ve begun adjusting claims in those areas that we can access now and will work our way into the hardest hit areas as they open up.”
An unusual and unfortunate story to come out of Katrina was that a number of companies had manpower ready to address the recovery process, but security issues and the massive damage prevented many from getting on the ground shortly after the storm passed.
“As you can imagine, many of the roads are blocked with debris, the bridges are out, and many places are still flooded,” Crawford pointed out. “Also, in some instances we may be unable to locate the policyholder for a period of time.”
Jay Contreras, owner of Phoenix-based Crimson Temporary Housing (www.crimsonworldwide.com), said that his company was also sending out personnel to help in the process of assisting people in finding temporary housing.
“We’re getting a lot of requests for housing out in Baton Rouge and for the most part, we couldn’t (last week) get in touch with the majority of the properties that we would typically work with in that area,” Contreras said. “The first steps we’ll take are seeing what kind of housing availability there is and what are the rates and going ahead and getting rentals reserved, so we can get people placed as soon as possible. I know from a lot of the adjusters we’ve been working with, from our standpoint, with the inability to react in certain areas because telephone lines are down and there is no power, we’re telling them their best option might be to go in with motorhomes. That way, they have guaranteed places to stay and therefore can get in a lot closer to the damaged areas where the assessment and adjusting would be done.”
Larry Albertelli, a manager of Texas-based Southern Adjusters (www.southernadjusters.com), noted that the company has had people on the ground waiting to go. “We have insurance company clients who receive their claims, then turn the claims over to us for processing and as we get an indication of where the claims are located and if there are areas of saturation, we mobilize our people accordingly,” Albertelli stated. “We cover every claim we’re given. Some of our adjusters have four-wheel drive and may be able to do a little more, but generally speaking, we don’t go anywhere until the authorities tell us it is safe to go there. We exercise as much caution as possible getting in and out of damaged areas.”
Unfortunately for many homeowners, Albertelli and others noted that it is almost assured that many folks will need years to rebuild their homes if they so choose.
“FEMA makes funds available very quickly,” Albertelli said. “In fact, people will have money in their hands probably before they have an opportunity to find a place to spend it. People can start the rebuilding process in a relatively short period of time, but there will be some people who will be trying to get their repairs done a year from now.”
Theresa Williams, executive vice president of Michigan-based Belfor (www.belfor.com) said that BELFOR has been working on numerous facilities throughout the impacted areas and that hospitals proved a top priority. “Our first priority was keeping the hospitals operational,” Williams said. “BELFOR has thousands of people in the area. We have a machinery crew, a electronics crew, demo crews, cleanup crews, valuable records crew, construction crews, and roofing crews.
So once everyone has been evacuated, thoughts will turn to whether or not to rebuild. If there is a silver lining to come out of this event, the rebuilding process will give a boost to the economy, but it still will not bring back the lives and memories that have tragically been lost forever.
“As devastating as this is, this (rebuilding) will give the economy a shot in the arm in certain areas that may not have recovered as fast as other areas of the country,” Crimson’s Contreras remarked. “The down side of course is you have people who have lost everything… their life savings, personal mementos and most importantly, family members.”
Albertelli of Southern Adjusters may have summed it up best when describing Katrina’s impact on not only the Gulf Coast but the nation. “I heard someone use the term that this was the ‘storm of a lifetime’ but this may be a ‘storm of the century.’ There is nothing typical of what we’ve seen,” Albertelli said.
And for those with a knowledge of past hurricanes, Crawford pointed out that Katrina will be one for the record books.
“The financial loss and structural damages that we’re seeing are far worse than Hurricanes Andrew (1992) or Camille (1969). I’ve never seen anything like this,” Crawford said.
The people of the Gulf Coast are hoping they don’t see anything like Katrina again anytime soon.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned to Claims Guides for more coverage of the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. If you are a claims adjuster on the ground in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama, and want to share your story or photos with us, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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