After Hurricane Wilma: Claims Piling Up As Cleanup Begins in Naples; In Some Areas Power Could Be Out for Weeks

October 28, 2005

Southwest and South Florida are recovering, very slowly, from the after-effects of Hurricane Wilma, which crossed over Naples on Monday and then speedily traveled due east to Miami and South Florida. Margaret M. Weems, president of Weems Insurance of Naples Inc. told Insurance Journal she received her 78th claim Thursday afternoon, but there is no way to tell how many policyholders have electricity or telephone service.

On Thursday most of Naples looked and felt like a war-zone. On I-75 south a few miles outside Naples flashing road signs directed emergency volunteers to get off at the next exit, where they would find a staging area, be logged in, their capabilities assessed and assigned to various teams according to where they would be most useful.

Every other radio commercial was an announcement from national insurance companies proclaiming they were standing by to receive calls about claims, instructing listeners to take photographs of their damages and save all receipts to permit the claims to be handled efficiently.

While some areas of Naples have electricity, many do not, and many homeowners were upset to find notices on their doors from the power company telling them when they could expect to get their electricity restored, many between Nov. 20 and Nov. 27.

Department of Financial Services representatives manned a trailer in a local shopping center, as did Nationwide and several aid organizations. Hurricane victims were lined up to receive water, ice and ready to eat meals. Several organizations were accepting donations, ice, water and provisions to assist laborers working in Clewiston and other nearby farming areas. Hurricane Wilma leveled local fields and destroyed the crops, so several local aid organizations were gathering ice, water and provisions, and were accepting donations to assist these laborers and their families.

Across Naples, downed trees lined the sides of streets; electric company bucket trucks were everywhere, repairing lines and attempting to restore power; policemen were at just about every intersection directing traffic, due to powerless or destroyed traffic signals; but everywhere, cleanup efforts are underway and attempts are being made to put the city back together again.

On Thursday evening residents and visitors were scurrying to meet an 8 p.m. curfew, after which the authorities would check every car on the street. Shopping centers and stores that had electricity were jammed with people buying essentials, but even stores with power were conserving electricity by keeping lights low and only providing necessities. There was little ice available, no cold drinks at all. Only a scattering of hotels that had electricity were open and at those there was no hot water or ice.

Weems said she began to see the effects of Hurricane Wilma at about 2 a.m. on Monday. When daylight came the city was in the eye of the hurricane and she said her neighborhood didn’t look too bad.

“Looking around I saw some trees had been blown down, some screen rooms and pool cages had collapsed, but overall the damage wasn’t as bad as it might have been,” Weems explained. She said as the eye passed by more wind and rain came and things didn’t calm back down until 4 p.m.

In 1969, when Hurricane Camille hit Mississippi, Weems saw the damage in Biloxi. After living in Mississippi for several years, she feels sorry about what residents are going through now after Hurricane Katrina.

Weems said Hurricane Wilma caused localized flooding in her neighborhood, but most damage was caused by wind. Her house is on a cul-de-sac and she said one side of it was flooded on Monday but that the water soon went down.

Weems has been in the insurance business for 35 years, she worked for agencies in Memphis, Tenn., and Orlando, Fla., before coming to Naples where she also worked for a local agency for several years prior to opening Weems Insurance of Naples.

“It’s strange how hurricanes can cause intermittent damage,” Weems pointed out. “Drive through any neighborhood and you will see some houses with damages, and others on the same street with absolutely none.”

While I waited for Weems to take one of the numerous calls from policyholders asking about how to file claims, the owner of the office building came to ask if I was the insurance claims adjuster. Part of the roof of the building the agency is housed in was damaged by Hurricane Wilma and an adjuster was due there to take a look at it.

Weems explained patiently to the policyholder on the phone that the damages being described were subject to a 2 percent hurricane deductible and that the best way to handle the problem was to determine how much damage there was, estimate how much it would cost to make the repairs, and if it looked like the cost would go over the deductible, to call back and an adjuster would be scheduled to come out.

Weems said that so far, her policyholders had been very lucky with adjusters. Most had been able to come out within a day or so of the call and she said that at present there were several adjusters in town to call.

“Most of the people calling seem very understanding about their claim and when I explain there’s a 2 percent deductible, take it in stride,” Weems said. She said several customers were very demanding, saying they wanted immediate action, even one homeowner who even wanted her to pay their airfare to Naples from up north to check on their damage.

Driving through the old section of Naples and toward the beach there were hundreds of downed trees, many of which lay across house roofs. Some roofs had blue tarps covering what were obviously leaks, but there were very few houses that had lost their roofs entirely or been blown down.

Weems said she saw several instances in which a roof had blown off one building and landed on another next door. Overall, however, she said she thought Naples came through the storm fairly well.

On Friday morning, when the curfew ends after sunrise, everyone will reassemble and begin another day’s work of restoring the community and insurance agents will continue to assemble information about claims.

Dave Kaiser continues to Miami on Friday, where conditions are expected to be much worse. He can be contacted at dkaiser@insurancejournal if anyone would like to comment on their expriences with Hurricane Wilma.

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