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.


Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

I have been wracking my brain since you posted this about ways we in the blogosphere can help you make money out of this...which as capitalism isn't my forte involves a lot of wracking.

I know I first found your blog because another blogger (i don't remember who) highlighted your plight in the early days of Katrina. Perhaps we need to get out there and rattle some tins again? Also if you put the blasted advertising on and we all agreed to click on them endlessly (you have to do a lot of clicks i hear to make a single cent) it could bring something in.

Or perhaps - more creatively we could have a web auction of things we could donate (a photo, a story, a song, a picture, a tour of our city, a personalised poem..some kind of cyber skill auction) and publicise it in our corners of the world. Over here in Oz, Katrina is all but forgotten. Donations were made (god knows where that money went), tears were shed...whatever...but most of us are totally unaware of the reality of life now - returning to damaged homes the insurers wriggle out of honouring, to no jobs and a fractured community.

We are a bright talented lot - we have to be able to do something.

5:29 PM  
Blogger addict said...

I could just read Another Outspoken Females comment all night... I absolutely love the idea of doing something to help...
All of this is so unfair.
I want to help with more than just supportive words... I wish I were wealthy.
Now that this is out of the daily press, most folks have no clue about what you and your neighbors are facing.
I am shocked that there is not more assistance available and that insurance covers so little.
I'm here...
You have my thoughts and prayers, I just wish that were enough...
Hang tight... If you do ad's, I'll click 'em.
If there is an auction, I'll donate and buy.

3:05 AM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks, sister. That's really kind of you to put your brain on a the task of fund-raising. I've been looking for a job, which would be the best way to deal with this. But I already have so much work to do at the house and I shudder to imagine having to tackle all that along with a full-time job and being available for the contractors as the repairs are done. And how do I do it all without short-changing my kids and/or falling short in meeting their needs? Nonetheless, I may have to sell my soul for a regular paycheck and health insurance. I suppose I'll figure something out when the time comes. I just can't think too much about it right now.

3:05 AM  
Blogger Alley said...

When I read how terribly hard things still are, I realise that we really do take things for granted *sigh*....

I do wish that there was some way we could rally the troops and get those insurance scoundrels to pay up!!


6:33 AM  
Blogger muse said...

What the others said, basically (I'm curiously out of words these days)

I'm thinking about you, and wishing I could do something. I hope that (when the time is right) you find a fabulously lucrative job which will help with the bills!

Can you take a mortgage on your house, meanwhile? Then just repay it? (well, "just"... not that it will be just a matter of waving a magic wand or anything)

I can't believe that the insure companies are screwing you guys like that. *sigh* Or actually, I _can_ believe it, I'm just shocked at how unfair and unethical it all is...

9:57 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Add my name to everybody else's comments. We love you and so wish there was something we could do, I'm buying Super Lotto tickets in hopes that I can become very wealthy and pay off all your debts (which I would do in an instant if I won!) I wrote a letter to 10 local radio stations, 5 local TV stations and two local newspapers asking them to tell us what is going on with NO reconstruction, and what is happening with relief efforts. Asking them to spotlight the current struggles of the returning population of NO, but so far no real responce, just some thank you for your letter stuff. I'm up for any idea that we could do, as far as I know, none of have popular enough blogs to start a blog meme, or mambye we could, maybe something like Tag Meme a "Tales of the Reconstruction", name five things you have or will do (a challenge to others) to donate time/money/energy to NO reconstruction.

11:03 AM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks to you all, my dear, sweet blog family. You all are truly wonderful!

I'm not going to let myself get lost in worries about the financial thing right now. One day at a time, and first things first. When I get the insurance settlement, I'll fix the essentials: roof, air/heat, hot water, and refrigerator. I'll set prioriries and do the best I can with what's left. Hopefully, the job prospects will improve as time moves forward. I'll figure it out.

Just say some prayers that I can find some honest contractors that will resist the temptation to gouge a single female like myself and like a number of other single females I know who are in a similar situation. The insurance money has to go farther than it's intended and I cannot afford to be scammed. (I know two guys who have lots of home repair/contractor experience that have been scam victims in the last few months. Not encouraging!) I've been asking everyone I know for references if they had good experiences. But the high prices are likely to stay because of the intense demand for services. I can't even get anyone to return calls.

I understand that everyone is experiencing "Katrina Fatigue" (especially all of us living on the Gulf Coast), but I also think it's important for the world to know that this isn't yesterday's news. And I'm wracking my brains just as much as you guys to find ways to help my friends who were hit much harder than I was. (Though, fortunately, they all still have their jobs.) The beauty in all this is in the way we're all working so hard to help each other.

On the day that this does become yesterday's news, I want you all to come and visit me in this (once and future) wonderful city that I call home.

Thanks again! I love you all!

3:28 AM  
Blogger muse said...

When I have a house of my own (hopefully within the next year, year and a half), I'll be returning that invitation!

I'll convince all of you Americans to move to Montreal! ;)

11:32 AM  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Am looking forward to the visit - and ditto seeing you in sunny Melbourne.

However, I am not giving up on this one - we span at least 4 countries in different corners of the world. I still think a net auction of some kind is possible. We all must have at least 30 regular readers (some of you many more)...and they have their loyal followers too. Beyond the blog I have access to a small amount of media (the poor kind unfortuantely, community radio) between us I reckon we can thought good thoughts into action and much that it won't just put you back on your feet but other people too! The power of the blogworld should never be under rated :)

6:15 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Indeed, it has been, in large measure, my blog-friends that have held my hand and helped me through through these trials and tribulations. More than anything, I just want all of this to be over and for everyone to come down and play.

1:08 AM  
Blogger compelled1 said...

a friend of a friend runs this site. it's worth putting out there, and perhaps it would be a good networking and exposure tool.

11:04 AM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Brandy, I get to thank you twice, again! That's a great website. I was going to post a suggestion on waste management (since we are generating an enormous amount of solid waste in this post-K demolition and reconstruction era), but someone had already done a more thorough job than I could have done.

Oh, and we're very much looking forward to going out for a nice meal and hope to do that very soon! Thanks so much!

Oh, and Brandy- I really like that picture you have with your profile now. How long before a blog follows?? :-)

2:16 AM  

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