How can we best help the folks reeling from the aftermath of hurricane Katrina?
I’ve been asked how to best help the folks reeling from the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. I’m departing from this week’s Freedom Letter to render what advice I can offer for those eager to help with assistance. The following is only my personal opinion from my experience after hurricane Charley and it is not any type of professional, legal, or financial advice.
The recovery from hurricane Katrina is in phase one. It is the stage when you are numb from being smacked by a hurricane. Every modern convenience has been taken from you. All community services (hospitals, sanitation, water, electricity, fire protection, phone, etc) are gone. Right now the need is getting emergency water and food to the victims.
During phase I after hurricane Charley, the President of the United States was giving out water and ice just a couple of miles from my home. The entire nation was focused on helping us. Our local parish had so many items trucked in from other parishes and from Catholic Charities that they had a hard time distributing all the emergency items
Although people are literally dying of thirst as I write, within 48 to 72 hours they are going to be inundated with water and emergency food supplies. What these people need is on the way already. My suggestion (and this is only my suggestion) is that you concentrate your support on phase II of recovery.
Emergency Phase I Repairs
For the homes that were temporarily flooded and no longer have water in them, the best practical assistance is helping to get all the wet building materials out of the house this weekend.
You wouldn’t believe the disgusting molds that can grow on wet drywall and insulation in humid climates like the areas hit by hurricane Katrina.
The best practical Phase I help we received was getting our roof temporarily repaired and getting the wet ceilings, walls, and insulation out of the house. The weekend after hurricane Charley my contractor friend, Thom Jordan in Tallahassee, gathered his crew and drove hours to Port Charlotte to remove wet ceilings, walls, and insulation from our home. It is imperative to get everything wet out of the house ASAP. If you know of a family with a wet, but not still flooded home, then either hire a contractor to go there and remove the wet building materials, or gather some friends and drive there and do it for the family you know.
Phase II begins after the initial emergency period. It is when the realization of what happened starts to sink in along with the awareness that it is going to take a very long time for things to recover.
At this stage, families start making their recovery plan. I could tell phase II began here in Port Charlotte when I heard lots of families cussing at each other while shopping in a re-opened Wal-Mart. The shock is wearing off and the stress really begins.
I am going to be very blunt with my advice. From the news reports I’ve seen, I would advise most families in the worst disaster areas to relocate, not rebuild. It is extremely difficult to rebuild after such widespread devastation. I’ve had workers in my home this week and hurricane Charley was over a year ago. There are homes and businesses that haven’t even begun to rebuild here and Katrina’s damage is much more severe. My advice is simple: get out, unless you have a compelling reason to stay and rebuild.
Therefore, my advice to those of you wishing to assist those hit by hurricane Katrina is to focus your giving on helping families to relocate . This would involve:
- U-haul rental, if there is anything left to move
- Transportation to the new location
- Used automobile (if auto has been destroyed)
- First and last month’s rent on a furnished apartment, house, or condo
- First month’s utilities and utility deposit
- Food money for at least a month
- A few sets of clothing for the family and some toys for the kids
- Tools needed for a new job
- Helping the breadwinners to locate a new job ASAP
I don’t know of any organization focusing something like the above, but you can start this type of assistance immediately by getting friends, family, and your parish to sponsor a relocating family. Just find someone who knows a family that wants to relocate and help them. This plan is not perpetual welfare, but a simple, short-term plan to get a family back on its feet.
The poor who were dependent upon the federal government for assistance before the hurricane, are probably going to have to depend upon the same after the hurricane. What happened here is that FEMA set up a mobile-home mini-city for those who could not find or afford temporary housing. The look of the FEMA city is a bit haunting with no colors, no landscaping, just rows and rows of mobile homes. Yet at least they are clean, dry, and livable facilities for poor families.
The Nightmare of Dealing with Insurance Companies
During phase II, many families will discover that their insurance companies are rotten scoundrels. (Remember, this is my personal opinion.) They will be late in paying and will estimate way below repair or replacement cost. Dealing with Liberty Mutual in the months following hurricane Charley was my biggest nightmare. If I received only what they initially offered me to repair my home, we couldn’t have afforded to fix it. We would have lost our home. They were very late in paying for repairs and we had to sell assets to pay installments on repairs. For the five months before we moved out of our rental home in July, Liberty Mutual didn’t give us a cent for temporary housing. The rent check finally arrived after we had already moved back in our home.
There were a few insurance companies in our community that were fair and timely with meeting their obligations, but they were in a minority.
The single best thing I did after hurricane Charley was to hire independent insurance adjusters that did battle with our insurance company for us. I emphasize that you need honest adjusters. The first set of adjusters we hired were unlicensed. They were arrested at gunpoint by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The second adjuster we hired, Ron Delo with Insurance Claims Consultants, was an angel sent from heaven. I can’t begin to describe his help in getting a fair adjustment from our insurance company. I just called Ron before writing this letter and he is heading to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. If you are interested in what he offers, call 800-572-7914. If you really need to reach Ron in an emergency situation, call him on his satellite phone at (254) 387-4714.
I am not making any type of formal, legal, or financial recommendation for Ron. I am just telling you how he was an incredible help to our family and to the Family Life Center in our recovery from Charley. Ron is the type of person I would recommend to a family member that had been slammed by another hurricane.
If the family you know is planning to rebuild, or if they want to move on and relocate, they will probably come out way ahead with their insurance company if they use a licensed and reputable insurance adjuster. Help them find one.
I apologize for the length of this letter, but I felt that the seriousness of the situation following hurricane Katrina demanded that I offer what little advice I could.
Yours in His Majesty’s Service,