One Family’s Hurricane Harvey Story, as it Unfolds

SSA board member Dennis Rodgers (Forever Foundations in Irvine, CA) is very involved with family members who went through the Hurricane Harvey ordeal in the Houston area.  He provided us with an up-close-and-personal view of what happens to somebody experiencing this level of catastrophe.  This is what he told us in these weeks following Harvey:

“My brother, nephew, and ex sister-in-law all are or were underwater. My brother’s house was under 6-7 foot and will be 4-6 weeks before water recedes. He has been told that his house is totaled. My brother is 76 years old, and basically, overnight, homeless.  Neither he nor any of his neighbors have flood insurance since the area never had flooded.  He has already worked and met with his adjuster, a guy who my brother has known for 30 years.  His house cannot be repaired and will need to be completely torn down and rebuilt.  Everyday, they are continuing to clean, gut, remove, and dwell in the pit of destruction.  It's with them constantly.”

Rodgers initially told us, “My nephew will begin soon with the actual reconstruction (he has insurance, not sure of his deductible) and could be back living in his rebuilt, remodeled home in two months.  He's not sure if he will sell or rent out and move. Also, they know flooding in their neighborhood is a problem and that the cost of insurance is going to skyrocket.  But, all in all, he's in relatively good shape.”  However, the most recent update decreases the family’s optimism:  “My nephew is stuck, on hold because the insurance check he received thus far was for $6000 and his claim is exceeding $100,000.  He's not sure about when, or the amount of the next check.  He can't begin the reconstruction and is now on hold still living with relatives.”

The third family member affected also has a flood policy, however getting reimbursed for her damages is more complicated than she realized it would be.  “My ex-sister-in-law has insurance with $60,000 deductible, and has gutted and removed what she can.  Her insurance, since she lives in a condominium, is in conjunction with the other units.  Not sure how that works.  She says that in her case, she must list the losses, (not only of the house, but also the contents), prove the value and the purchase of the contents, and then the values are based on the age of the contents.  I guess the documentation is a nightmare, and takes months and months if not years to get settled and the check written.  My sister-in-law is probably going to do it herself, and forget the insurance.  She only had 2 inches of water but they still have to go up about 4 feet for repairs - which means all of the flooring, cabinets, furniture on the floor up to 4 feet, must be replaced.”

Says Rodgers, “The concept of insurance is fine, but the way it's implemented can actually cause many individuals and businesses to give up, close up.  I saw the former head of FEMA say in an interview on CNN that that on average, 40% of business damaged by flooding/hurricanes go out of business because they can not hold on for the time it takes to get their insurance check.”

Rodgers continues, “Since my brother had no flood insurance, he purchased a 25 foot RV trailer to park in the driveway while he decides his own future and that of the house.  For right now, he's fine.  He must shower with bottled water for the water system is contaminated and the sewage/treatment plants are not working yet, so he assumes the sewage is just being dumped into the Gulf/Rivers/Streams.  That issue will definitely take some time.  If you drink water from the tap, it must be sterilized first.  People are learning that the hard way.  There have been concern about vandalism, but being in Texas, it is not a problem at this point because people are armed (A) and (B) lots of police and guardsmen are patrolling the streets. He contacted the local constable (his buddy) and informed him that he's living in the trailer next to his house, so they are checking on him regularly and he has the constables cell number, plus he's armed.  All of these things you have to think about.  So right now my brother is living in the trailer with ‘all the comforts of home, including DISH’, but the nightmare of this existence is overwhelming.  He said that people are just slowly going through the motions of moving on, but are really not, because nothing is really happening.  Some people are moving into their second story with the bottom floor virtually wide open.”

Speaking to the plight of those without flood insurance, Rodgers explains that his family is hopeful.  “My brother had a FEMA government official come and visit him the Saturday after the storm and there is reason for some optimism in his case.  There is a federal program for those without insurance that helps those that are Veterans.   They did a complete exam of his house and will get the proposal sometime next week.  This program is different in that they don't write a check to the individual, they have bonded FEMA contractors from across the USA that come in and rebuild the houses.  He will not know all the details until he actually sees the proposal himself, timing, cost, etc.  My brother is a Viet Nam Vet, wounded several times, still has shrapnel. On his last mission his helicopter crashed and crushed vertebrae in his back.  He is classified by the military as 100% disabled. For the past 10-15 years he has had severe problem with his back.“

Rodgers finished his recount, “One other item, the local churches have been fantastic in helping, aiding, being there for the community and the individual.  My bother had a group from a Baptist Church out of Spring, TX where my nephew lives by coincidence, and spent three hours completing the gutting of my brother’s house, then went next door and so on.  He said they worked their butts off."  

He continued, "Also worth noting, churches have been denied for FEMA assistance to help rebuild (FEMA loan assistance).”

Thank you Dennis for sharing your family's story with us.  It certainly brings home the real challenges that people face in these circumstances.  We encourage everyone to contact their insurance agents to understand what is covered in their policies, and HOW it is covered.