Thursday, February 23, 2006

Insurance Ill-Logic

Although I completely understand that everyone is sick of this stuff, I need the therapy. So pretend to be interested in this latest bit of logic exhibited by my insurance company.

Subject: Funk-Infested Refrigerator

I told the story about how we struggled with getting the disgusting refrigerators out of my house. One was old and one was brand new and both were being used before the storm. Here's the rest of the story.

Because we blew out the wheels on three different hand trucks, we had to "walk" the two refrigerators out to the front porch, making nasty scratches on the hardwood floors. And we left them there. There was no way to move the machines any further, but I was at least glad to have them outside. And the next day, they were gone.

The insurance companies were telling us that the funky refrigerators would not be covered because they were not broken. They were just disgusting and smelly, but they could be cleaned. Me, my mother, my brother and two of my friends were told this (all of us with State Farm) and so was Renard (from a different carrier.) So, all but one of the aforementioned folks dutifully cleaned the machines, and cleaned them again, and again, ad nauseum (literally), until weeks later when the funk and the persistent fly larvae (AKA maggots) finally disappeared. Before my turn came to deal with this issue, I had been having conversations with the refrigerator veterans about whether or not to even try cleaning mine, but as it turned out, I never had the opportunity because both refrigerators disappeared from my porch and from the neighborhood. They were not taken by the Department of Environmental Quality for disposal (they would have had to have been on the curb for that and surely my neighbors' fridges would have been gone, too,) but probably by some enterprising chap with fried olfactory nerves.

So, I asked my nice adjuster fellow about how this would be handled and he said I'd have to file a looting/theft claim. So, I did and the adjustor for this claim called me today. But get this- he told me that he doubted they'd pay anything for my refrigerators because they'd be worthless. Well, obviously someone thought differently when they chose to take mine. (I can understand taking the new one, which was stainless steel and still in its protective wrapper, but I don't get why they took the old one.) And how can they claim that they had no value when they previously told us all that there was nothing wrong with them that a little cleaning wouldn't fix. Uh, you can't have it both ways. But how much do you want to bet that they'll try.

(In the picture, you can see where we hammered the handles trying to get them off so the fridge would fit through the doorway. The stainless steel is covered in a white protective film.)

I'll let you guys know how this turns out.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

High Anxiety

I'm not ordinarily the anxiety type, BUT... I've got to get this out of my system.

This house thing is making me jump out of my skin. There is too much to do. Too much to coordinate. Too many unknowns. No help.

I don't trust general contractors. Too many bad experiences with them. Same with carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, and the like. One upon a time, there were a few people I trusted in a few of these professions, but I can't find them anymore. I've gotten some names from friends, but apparently these people are in such demand that their voicemail boxes are full. If you can leave a message, no one returns calls. So, just keep trying until you get a human. After much frustration, I'm finally scheduled to get my first roof estimate this week.

I need the house leveled again, (which I just did 2 years ago!) before I can really get going on the rest of the work. If I can get the interior gutted before March 5th, the city will haul off the debris for free. But once I do that, there's no turning back. And what happens if I can't get the house leveled soon after? We might be able to live in the house if it has walls and ceilings and hot water and heat/ac. But not without them. And not with all the furniture piled up in one or two rooms or in a storage pod. House shoring/raising/leveling is one of the services most in demand right now (and one of the most expensive, and NOT covered by insurance!) and if I have to wait a long time to get that done, that means a longer time before I can get to work on the interior (because leveling usually causes the walls to crack) which means longer before we can move back in. That means more time living out of whack, more time of the wretched double morning kid-commutes and more burden on mom, who would really like her house back. I want a normal life again and I want it now. But nothing is normal here and nothing, nothing is now.

It's all simply too much.

I hate to complain, because I know that there are people who are worse off than we are. I just don't do well when there are so many variables that I cannot control and it is affecting other people. And then there's the financial side of things.

I met with my adjuster for the third time yesterday. The damage estimates are now just under $100,000 and expected to climb once the latest problems are added to the tally. And this still does not include all the things that the insurance company will not cover and I have no estimates for at this point -the things I mentioned in the last post. I just learned yesterday that, contrary to what I was previously lead to believe, not all of my walls and ceilings will be covered. Now they say that some of the cracks and buckling may have come from the wind torquing the house because there is no water stain above them on the ceiling, despite the fact that water behind the plaster will make it crack and buckle even when no stain is visible. Now, to fix the walls their way, I'll have rooms with half the walls in plaster, the other half sheetrock. You can tell the difference. How is this making me whole?? I though about trying to restore the plaster myself, but reading about this process has convinced me that it's not something I can do without having someone give me a few hands-on lessons. It's a much more complicated process than you'd imagine and it involves chemistry. But I have to do as much of the work as I can myself because every penny I can save of the insurance settlement will have to go toward the many things not covered. I figure that the uncovered losses will probably be in the neighborhood of $25,000, and my guesses have been pretty close so far.

Thanks for letting me vent. Now, I will refrain from thinking about this any more tonight in the hope that I'll sleep rather than writhe in bed all night trying to figure out how to pull it all together. And please forgive me if I visit your blogs but don't comment. It doesn't mean I don't love you!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Damage Report

Well, it's almost been three weeks since our return. I've been busy.

Every day I get up at 6:15 AM and drive Alex from my mom's house to our N.O. neighborhood to catch the 7:00AM bus to school. Then I drive back to my mom's to get Rachel ready and drive her back to Uptown New Orleans to get her to school for around 8:15AM. Then (because I'm still up half the night) I go back to mom's and take a little morning nap, then go back to my house to spend the rest of the day working on things there.

I've spent the better part of the last three weeks working outside doing the following: 1)pulling up all the dead plants from the garden beds and cutting down all the wild vines and mini-trees (sorry, no watermelons) that have grown like crazy in the missing months, 2) cleaning up flood deposited debris in the yard, like tree chunks, branches, and leaves, which I have a piled with the other organic junk in a corner of the back yard in the hopes that it will compost itself, 3) cleaning up all the other junk like broken fencing, strewn pieces of my house's wood siding, trim, and shutters, slates from the roof, miscellaneous boards, trash and roofing materials that my neighbor's roofers inconsiderately dumped in my yard, and other assorted detritus.

Inside the house I've been busy cleaning up fallen plaster and the impressive amount of dust that has accumulated while we were gone. I've also been trying to organize all our stuff and get things arranged, put away, and/or moved around in anticipation of the interior work to be done.

In the afternoon, I pick Rachel up from school and we go back to the house to work (well, she usually plays) until Alex's bus drops him off and he arrives back home around 5:oo PM. Then, we usually head back to mom's for dinner and homework. The traffic uptown and between the city and the suburbs is absurd and never-ending.

My neighborhood had some flood damage and a lot of wind damage. I've met twice with my insurance adjuster (who has been great and is doing his best within the constraints of my insurance company's guidelines for interpreting the policy) and also with some contractors and roofers. (Moofers don't want to bother with folks like me who only need repairs as opposed to the more expensive complete replacement.) The damage estimate for my house at this point is a moving target which is hovering between $65,000 and $75,000 for damage caused by both flood and winds. And there are a number of things that I am now being told my insurance will not cover. Grrrr.

The wind damaged the roof and other exterior structures of the house and allowed a lot of water to leak into the walls and ceilings. As the interior goes, almost every ceiling and every wall in the house, except the walls in the den, will have to be gutted and replastered. The problem is that my insurance company will not pay for the 100+ year old house to be returned to it's original state of plastered walls. They will only pay for sheetrock. I don't want to gut the house of its history. It's old construction and has got very unusual lath patterns in some of the walls. So. if I want to keep the house's historical integrity (and superior qualities of plaster over sheetrock), I have to pay for it myself. (I'm okay with sheetrock in the bathrooms and kitchen.) These are 12 foot ceilings. Plastering is not a skill that too many people have these days. It's going to cost a fortune. Grrrrr.

Oh, my insurance company will not pay for things that the water leaked on and destroyed, either. Like Alex's mattress and bedding. I find this almost impossible to believe. But I was told that it would be paid for only of there was an opening in the ceiling above the bed through which we could "see the stars." Well, there is an opening in the house above his room, where most of the boards are missing. It's wide open. You can stand on the street behind my house and see clear through to the rafters inside my attic and anything else that I might choose to put up there for your viewing pleasure. I could open the old attic hatch above Alex's bed and see the stars through the missing wall above it. If the ceiling continues to fall in that spot, we might soon qualify. Oh, but that wouldn't be covered because they would chalk it off to my failure to mitigate a previous loss. I'm still looking for a contractor to do the work, and every day I pray that pigeons don't decide to roost up there. Maybe it's too wide open even for them.

We smell something burning when we turn certain lights on, and some lights continuously flicker between bright and dim so I'll have to have an electrician check this out when the walls come down. Add this to the figure. (But will insurance pay?) Some of the cabinets in the kitchen have to be replaced because of water damage. Insurance will pay for these, even though they were damaged by water leaking in and there is no opening through which we can see the stars in the kitchen. Go figure.

I have a few appliances that don't work because of the power surges. These will also have to be assessed by an electrician. The toilet upstairs doesn't get any water, probably because of debris in the lines when the water was turned back on. Call the plumber. Cha-ching.

Just about every house in my neighborhood seems to be listing to one side or the other. The masonry work on the foundation of my porch is cracked from the flood and some of the concrete in my piers is crumbling. I just had foundation work done and the house re-leveled less than two years ago. Looks like the flood caused all our houses to shift and sink a little on one side or another, but guess what? Flood insurance doesn't cover this. Call the shoring company. Cha-ching! Add one more item to my side of the tally.

Insurance will not pay for my two funked out refrigerators (one of which was brand new) or for the damage to my floors and door frames from moving them out. FEMA told us to trash them, but they "do not pay for lost personal property." The insurance company also will not pay for us to store our furnishings in a POD or some similar container while the house is being repaired, nor will they pay to house us elsewhere while the work is being done. We can just cram ourselves and our furnishings into a room or two while work is done on the other rooms. This will be a miserable situation. But that doesn't matter. That's the deal.

So, I'm out of pocket for the storage container (which I think is going to be necessary), the refrigerators, and the messed up floors and door frames from moving the fridges out. Mo' money! I wouldn't be surprised if the total for all the repairs comes to more than $100,000 before this is all over, with more than a quarter of it coming out of my empty pockets. Ha! I bought the house almost 18 years ago for less than that. And if New Orleans survives, lets hope the house will be worth much more once it's all fixed up. I say lets hope because it's not something I can take for granted with the economic situation of this city as fragile and iffy as it is right now. And it certainly hangs on the assumption that we can get through the next hurricane season unscathed. It starts again in less than five months. I can't even let this reality enter my mind for more than a second, lest I go insane.

Oh, here's another insurance insult I should share with you so that you can share my righteous indignation. As you may recall, we New Orleanians were not allowed to return to our homes by a municipal evacuation order until a month after the storm. Once the city was opened to us again, as was the case when I came home to fetch the car in October, there was no electricity, no gas, no potable water, and no services of any kind (emergency 911 service, ambulances, hospitals, schools for kids etc.) The insurance companies covered two weeks (as per the policy) of the month-long evacuation period under their policy's municipal ordinance clause. But once the city was re-opened (even if it wasn't your zip-code that was opened), if your house was standing, the insurance company decided there was no reason for you not to return and live in it, lack of utilities and services notwithstanding. The line sheepishly coughed out all over town by adjustors, those unfortunate mouth-pieces of the insurance companies, was (and I'm not making this up) that people lived without electricity for hundreds of thousands of years. (Or thousands, if you're a creationist, I guess.) But no one responded when I asked how people lived without potable water and no means to boil water, if you did happen to have something coming out of your grimey pipes. With no stores open, it wasn't like you could just go out and get a few gallons. And what would you eat? How would you cook?

Oh, I know.

We could have collected all the broken pieces of our houses and built fires upon which we could cook dead sewer rats and looted canned goods. Then we could take the rat pelts and build tents near our fires to keep warm. Baths? Hah! People lived without those for thousands of years. Hell! Who needs a reasonable interpretation of a loss of use clause at all? Really, who even needs a house in the first place? People lived without these for thousands of years, too. Who needs any of this stuff? With this kind of rationale, we should have just pitched our rat-pelt tents in our back yards, lit fires and shaken our torches and big clubs while making scary grunting sounds at any desperate soul who threatened to steal our rat-leg or can of beans. What an insult.

We paid the premiums for our policies and those "loss of use" provisions gave us the impression (or false sense of security) that we would have a place to stay when the things that make a house habitable without undue hardship are missing. And in my opinion, an ongoing lack of potable water, power and means of heating if it's cold, renders a house unsuitable for habitation. There are people in this city that are still bereft of these minimal necessities. Well, tant pis, as we say in the bayous. Too bad.

Eat, drink and be merry, but pay attention to those policies, people. For tomorrow it may be your turn.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Weirdness Abounds (But That's Normal for New Orleans)

Unexplainable Katrina Watermelons Being Tested

She's a super-freak ... super-freak ...

Watermelons usually grow in spring and are harvested through summer. But freaky Mother Nature has them mysteriously popping up all over Katrina-land this winter. Granted, the weather has been lovely and spring-like since I've been home, with temperatures in the upper 70s on some days. But that occasionally happens here, and winter watermelons do not. Maybe we've slipped into the southern hemisphere and no one noticed. If the Gulf of Mexico (which keeps us balmy here) is this warm in winter, woe be to all us living here on the Third Coast this hurricane season.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Enough is Enough!

Renard Surveys Tornado Damage
Originally uploaded by LisaPal.
How much more of this are we going to have to take?? Haven't we had enough???

Thursday morning the phone rang at 3:00 AM, during a severe thunderstorm that was speeding through the area at a fast 55 MPH clip, packing high winds, heavy rain and an amazing amount of lightening. It was Renard on the phone, asking if we were okay. He was shaken and confused because, while standing at the sink washing his face after a gig at the Maple Leaf, all the lights went out and the windows started breaking. After regaining his composure, he looked outside and saw that his car, his dad's car, and his van had been moved from the places where they'd been parked and all the windows had been blown out on them as well. He thought there may have been an explosion somewhere. But I knew that tornadoes make windows pop like that, and given the weather, that was the most likely explanation.

In New Orleans, we are no strangers to severe weather, and severe weather often comes with tornado watches or warnings. But I don't recall any tornados actually having touched down in the city in my lifetime. That changed the night before last, when this line of severe thunderstorms spawned several tornadoes which touched down in the metro New Orleans area.

Note: An article about the tornadoes appeared in today's local paper reporting that the last time it happened was 24 years ago, but I don't remember that. There are more pictures from the article here.)

Renard and his son have been living in his parent's house since Katrina. (His dad passed away a few months after the storm and his invalid mother has been living in Houston with his sisters.) One of last night's tornadoes tumbled down his street damaging his house and severely damaging his aunt's house next door. (It took part of her roof with it.) The neighborhood is a mixture of residential and industrial buildings and, fortunately, a factory took the brunt of the F1-rated twister, but nonetheless, there was an enormous amount of damage in the area. The airport and part of Lakeview, where there is already so much destruction are among the other areas damaged by these tornadoes.

So now, Renard and many others get to call their insurance companies again to file new claims for houses that hadn't yet been repaired from Katrina's damage.

When is this going to end???