Adjusters Dispatched to Southeast Florida: Face Uncertain Conditions After Hurricane Wilma

October 26, 2005

Insurance adjusters are converging on Orlando this morning to regroup and then after short meetings, be assigned to Florida’s southwest and southeast coasts, where they begin to access the damage caused by Hurricane Wilma’s march across the state.

Several adjusters told Insurance Journal they are being “run-ragged and wearing down,” after chasing hurricanes Katrina and Rita. One adjuster said so far this year he has rented cars more than 200 days.

Adjusters face uncertain conditions after they are dispatched to their posts, because the entire southern part of Florida is without electricity or services.

“It all goes with the job,” one said. “If I get to Fort Lauderdale and the power is out I am equipped to run my laptop in the car and I can always use candles in the hotel room, I’ve done that before.”

More than 10,000 electrical repairmen have been sent south from north Florida and surroundings states to begin putting the hard-hit communities back on the grid, but even officials in Miami estimate that the power could be out for as long as a month.

“It will be days or weeks before we are back to normal,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez told the Miami Herald.

Monday’s storm left more than three million people in darkness in South Florida alone. Florida Power & Light officials told the Herald it could take two to four weeks to fully restore power to the region.

Unlike in past storms, FPL suffered extensive damage from flying debris at transmission substations that transmit power to entire neighborhoods, company President Armando Olivera said. So FPL must repair not only downed power lines but the stations that feed them.

He said crews were first bringing power to critical facilities like hospitals and utilities before targeting residential neighborhoods.

By Tuesday afternoon, FPL said it had restored power to 57,300 customers in Miami-Dade and 5,400 in Broward. More than 1.7 million customers in the two counties remained without power.

Government officials estimate cleanup efforts on both coasts will take weeks or even months. They marvel that there weren’t more deaths and injuries, but are now watching as Floridians line up outside the few stores that are open after the hurricane to buy water, food, gas, ice and even generators.

Officials of Florida’s three most populous areas Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties prepared to distribute ice, water and other essentials to residents Tuesday, while utilities warned that restoration of services could stretch into weeks.

“I’ve been on the road for seven weeks chasing hurricanes and it’s really getting stressful, thank goodness the hurricane season is about over,” one adjuster said late Tuesday night while driving the final 160 mile leg of a 550-mile drive from Biloxi, Miss. to Orlando. “I just hope that after the hurricane season ends there aren’t any earthquakes or tornadoes for a while!”

Adjusters working in Mississippi and Louisiana were but on notice last Friday, when it became obvious that Hurricane Wilma would hit Florida. They were instructed at that time to finish up their pending paperwork and be prepared to move on to Florida. Their marching orders became official on Sunday when they were told to wrap up their last few estimates in Mississippi on Monday, and be in Orlando Wednesday morning, and ready to drive to his next assignment in Fort Lauderdale.

“The rental car company is sure making out on its business from insurance adjusters this year,” one adjuster said. He had hoped to turn in his rental car in Baton Rogue, where he had rented it, but found at the last minute he had too much equipment in the car to take on a plane. “The cost for excess baggage would have cost more than the drop-off fee in Florida,” he said.

Due to the widespread power outages, most stores remained closed. There were long lines at those that were open. Hundreds of people stood in line for hours outside a Super Wal-Mart in Broward County, which was letting in a handful of customers at a time. The store was out of generators but customers were able to buy essentials like water and food.

The storm slammed across the state in about seven hours Monday, causing billions in insured damage and leaving 5.9 million people, or a little less than 3 million homes and businesses, without electricity. More than 5,000 residents remained in shelters Tuesday as the hurricane’s remnants headed toward the North Atlantic.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance took the forefront in the rescue effort, driving supplies into Naples on Tuesday and distributing water, ice and other essentials at a local shopping center. Other carriers and insurance associations are expected to follow suit.

“We’re attempting to respond to those policyholders hardest hit first. Uninhabitable homes are definitely a priority,” Ken Enscoe, Nationwide’s director of catastrophe claims operations said. “And, we’re not just waiting for those calls to come in. Our claims associates and agents are traveling through those communities hardest hit to check in with policyholders, since power and telephone access is limited. Nationwide is here to help our customers when they need us most.”

Nationwide has activated its National Catastrophe Team, which will bring more claims representatives to areas with the greatest concentration of damage.

“Our claims force will work seven days a week and our agents are assisting with the claims reporting process so we are able to continue to provide exceptional customer service,” Enscoe said.

Nationwide has assigned more associates in call center operations and extended shifts to address policyholder calls.

If the homeowner has access to the home, they are encouraged to safely make temporary repairs to prevent further interior damage or loss.

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