I wrote a post three days prior to landfall of Category 4 Hurricane Michael to a group of flood adjuster stating that it is already started to be down-played as a wind storm. It was a huge wind storm, but there is flooding from the results of storm surge, riverine and tributaries as the gulf water blew in.
Hurricane Michael with maximum sustained winds around 155 mph, just 2 mph shy of Category 5 status with a storm surge of 10 to 12 feet hit Mexico Beach ant Tyndall Air Force Base at 12:30 PM. As I scanned the TV stations the devastation became surreal. The barometric pressure was 27.13 inches of mercury (919 mb) at the time of landfall, making it the third strongest landfalling U.S. hurricane in history.
Events like this, especially after the bust flood adjusters experienced from Hurricane Florence has created more unsettling nerves for opportunity to work. The emails and phones started coming in requesting to be put on “standby or deployment”. My phone continues to ring as adjusters call to ask, “What should I do?”
IA Firms are holding orientations across the south from Mobile, AL to Tallahassee, FL. Adjusters are being deployed to Panama Beach with claims in hand. I stay put on this Friday evening as the Neosho River in Southeast Kansas crawls back into its banks from the recent remnants of Rosa. I am enjoying a nice thick prime rib, raw horseradish and a loaded baked potato while the carriers sort out how coverage will be applied. Is the peril going to be flood, wind or dual causation of flood and wind?
My statement here are the results of prior boots-on-the-ground experiences during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. I was deployed to area on the east coast; Jersey Shore, NJ and South Hamptons, NY. Arriving in Pittsburgh, PA for two days of orientation, holding up in my room overlooking the twin rivers as Sandy pounded the east coast. Claims hit my queue. I was ready to journey across the winter wonderland of the Allegheny Mountains to a small town where lodging and gas was plentiful. It was about a 45-minute drive on a good day to the Jersey Shores area.
While in Jersey I worked the area where you walk out of buildings and fall into the Atlantic. My assignments were all commercial claims.
Arriving at the auto repair shop (VE zone) at the scheduled appointed time, I met the insured who quickly introduced his public adjuster. We exchanged pleasantries and reviewed the information on the dec page of his policy. I requested time to complete my investigation which included photos, sketch and scrupulous notes related to the causes of loss.
It was a single-story CMU building with a gable roof. The front elevation of the gable end building faced the oceanside, had one 8′ x 9′ metal overhead door and a sliding window to the left. On the right elevation, there was a full view glass entry door were customers would enter. Flanking the entry door were two additional 8′ x 9′ overhead doors. The exterior of the building was a bright yellow prior to the storm. Now it looked like the pureed squash soup I had for lunch two days ago. The architectural shingles that once were fastened to the sheathing are now plastered to the neighbors building directly behind and beyond. The roof sheathing was secured except the sheets at the far end of the building; they were lifted and one missing. Business personal property was displaced; some in the attic, some in the parking lot and some, well who knows.
I returned to the public adjuster and wanting to know where he was coming from. I asked, “well, what is your thoughts?” He said, “it looks like a classical wind event and I will have my estimate to you in three days.” I replied, “I am not sure I agree with your conclusions and here are my reasons:”
1. There is an exterior watermark that is just below the gutter of the structure that is measuring a little less than 10 feet.
2. The front elevation overhead door is still attached to the track rails at the top which leads me to believe the surge water started pushing in at the bottom and pealed the panels upward.
3. The two right elevation overhead doors are pushed out and they have an interior watermark that is close to being consistent with the exterior watermark.
4. The interior walls are no longer in place and part of them are against the back wall
5. The business property is also against the back wall, in the parking lot and maybe down the street or in the ocean (water flow back to the ocean).
6. The roof sheathing in the back of the building has been pushed up and has debris from the water still on it.
I told the public adjuster that I was not disagreeing with him about wind damage but I believe the storm surge was the cause of the major portion of the damage. Therefore, my adjustment will reflect that.
The public adjuster underlying issue was coverage. There was more wind coverage than flood coverage. Adjusters do not need to be an engineer to determine if there is flood or wind damage. Adjusters need to know how to determine the difference and be able to document with photos and capture it in the narrative.
After moving from Jersey Shores to new assignments in South Hamptons, NY I paid $26.00 for a hamburger and shared a hotel with three people to keep the cost down until better housing could be found.
This loss was in the a zone that could only be affected by the rise of water in a marsh area and did not meet the equivalent of the house around the $26.00 hamburger zip code. It was on the far west side of the island after an hour drive through the countryside of Long Island.
Arriving at the risk, I could only park my truck in the driveway with my front tires submerged to the rim. Slipping on my hip waders I began my investigation. Sitting on the lot, overlooking the marsh to the east gave way to beautiful sunrises. Compared to where I was an hour earlier, the quaint little, single family dwelling, elevated pre-firm with a sub-crawlspace had an exterior watermark on the white D-4 vinyl siding about 5 feet high. The water inundated the interior at the kitchen cabinet sink 24 inches.
The flood water surrounded the home for two days based upon the policyholder statements. You could see where the white cap of the wind-driven water left residue marks higher than 5 feet of the windward side of the building. The right and left elevations of the building had a watermark line that looked like a carpenter snapped a chalk line. Below the line was flood damage. Above the line, the vinyl siding was peeled off by the wind. The roof shingles and felt on the windward side of the slope were non-existent. The sheathing was a smooth as the bald- headed buzzard that was gliding high in the sky looking for its next meal.
The interior ceiling was laying on the sofa on one side of the room and black stained ceiling from aged attic insulation was on the other side. The ductwork that carried the cool air in the summer and hot air in the winter; drip, drip, drip onto the already soaked flood. The furnace that supplied the ductwork was nicely tucked into the hallway closet. The ductwork was damaged by wind-driven rain and the furnace by the CAT 3 flood waters; two different perils.
The policyholder was in her seventies; full of wit and sharp as a tack. “Never experienced a flood like this; I have good insurance”, she said. “They cover both my flood and wind damage”, she said. I explained to her that I was assigned both claims and will make sure the process goes smooth.
The is clearly a dual causation loss from both flood and wind and must be adjusted accordingly. I explained to the policyholder that one peril did not cause a total loss. Furthermore, damages caused by each peril with have their individual deductible.
As adjusters spread out over the storm track of Hurricane Michael you may want to consider these two narratives of real-life events from Superstorm Sandy. It is those experiences that have allowed me to develop continuing education opportunity for both flood and wind adjusters. By attending my one-day training; Flood vs Wind Adjusting you will receive 8 hours CE credits for Indiana and Texas and improve your ability to adjust complex losses.
FEMA has specific procedures when adjusting flood losses that have wind damage. In 2015 FEMA published Bulletin W-08008. The bulletin references a Wind/Water Investigation Tips; Important Things to Do When Investigating a Claim was a published pamphlet in 1999. I include this information in the materials provided for the Five-Day NFIP Flood Boot Camp™.
See other articles by this author:
Why Flood Adjusters Need Training