Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Katrina--Two Years Later

Well, I live in metro New Orleans so I guess that's what I'm supposed to write about. Two years ago tonite I was at my sister's in Atlanta watching the news as this monster storm was heading for my home. Luckily, we escaped her major wrath, and our lives returned to "the new normal" as quickly as anyone's did. My husband and I returned to our jobs a month after the storm, and by January, all was normal with them. My new normal means that I now spend as much time working on hurricane cases of one sort or another as I do working car accident or slip and fall cases, but the legal field has managed to make lemonade out of all the economic problems I've seen in this area in the last twenty years. I've posted pictures on this blog showing the recovery in various parts of town, and my last drive through the area pretty much told the same story. Most people in Jefferson Parish, the western suburb in which I live, have completed repairs, though there are still a few FEMA trailers around. In New Orleans, Lakeview, the wealthy area innundated with flood water from the broken levee is on the rebound, and that rebound often means that the old house has been demolished and a new larger one is going up. Gentilly, a less wealthy neighborhood next to Lakeview, still has a lot of gutted homes without much action. The Ninth Ward seems devoid of life in many places. St. Bernard Parish has lots of trailers. It will be smaller, but I think it will come back. New Orleans East looks like a ghost town.

One question many of you may ask is "What is taking so long". In short, the problem is money. Most of the damage from Katrina was caused by flood, and floods aren't covered under homeowner's insurance. Most people with mortgages on their homes had flood insurance, but unlike homeowner's insurance where most people who can afford it buy replacement cost coverage, flood insurance only pays the face value of the policy, and only pays depreciated cost. Also, the maximum amount of flood insurance available was $250,000, unless you bought excess coverage--and most agents weren't aware that excess was available because most people had homeowner's with an agent who worked for one company like Allstate or State Farm, and those companies didn't sell excess flood insurance. Also, for most people, "flood" meant you had to pull the carpet, cut out four feet of sheet rock, and get new bottem cabinets. If they skimped on insurance, this was a reasonabe place to do so. I worked on three files today regarding houses that had ten feet of water in them. They were knocked off their foundations, and filled with water which sat there for weeks. All the contents were a total loss. The interiors had to be torn out down to the studs and the plumbing and wiring had to be redone. The damages were estimated at over $120,000 for a 1200 sq ft house ($100/sq. foot seems to be a benchmark figure). The owners were paid their policy limts of $60.000 on the flood claim. They got about $10.000 on the homeowners claim because the insurance company said all damages except to the roof were caused by flood. In short, they have $70,000 to repair a house that will cost $120,000 to repair/replace. Actually, they don't even have that because the mortgage company took that those checks and paid off the mortgage. So now these people, who weren't wealthy to begin with, and who have lost EVERYTHING they own--and maybe their jobs too, though at this point jobs are pretty easy to get, have to go out to get a mortgage to build a new house or renovate the old one, a job which costs a pretty penny more than it did before Katrina. They have to decide whether to rebuild in the old neighborhood--and hope that the neighbors do too or whether to move to another area or out of the city totally. While the wait for contractors has gone down, the good ones still have waiting lists. Road Home is passing out money, but none too quickly--and often those grants have to go to repay money already received from another source like SBA loans.

I had to call the courthouse today on another matter and the clerk to whom I spoke said people were lined up out the door. Today is the deadline to file suit for Katrina damages, and people are doing it. Everyone is hoping to get their insurance companies to foot more of the cost of repairs--and complaining about the high cost of homeower's insurance. I'm sure my office will be deluged in new hurricane cases in a few weeks. At mass every week we pray "Through the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succor may we be spared all loss of life and property this hurricane season" and that is my prayer tonite.

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