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Sunday, April 21
The Indiana Daily Student

Waiting after the winds

September tornado leaves some without homes, wading through whirlwind of paperwork

On Sept. 20 a tornado hit Indiana and left 150 miles of destruction in its wake between Ellettsville and Indianapolis.\nOver a month later, the damage is still visible.\nWhat can't be seen is the whirlwind of paperwork left for victims and the slow process some are facing to receive insurance payments.\nThe drive through Martinsville alone exhibits crumpled structures on either side of State Road 37.\nFully grown trees have snapped like twigs, bowed over in a grotesque homage to nature. Building parts are scattered like lightweight trash, and roofs have been sucked off from the force of winds that ranged from 150 to 200 miles per hour. Sheds and playgrounds have buckled or been smashed. People can be seen in work boots, surveying their property and trying to figure out where to start on the task of rebuilding their lives.\nThe tornado damaged more than 200 properties -- including the destruction of 73 homes and 13 businesses -- one of which belonged to Anne and Randy Hamilton, who owned a plant center in Martinsville until it was leveled.\nThey said they are one of only a handful of people they know who have gotten any substantial amount of money back from their insurance company. The Hamilton's got $15,000.\nThe Hamiltons pointed out this amount isn't as much as it sounds because they have to use it to repair not just their home that has a caving foundation and approximately two-and-a-half walls, but also to rebuild their business and replace tools and equipment.\nWhile trying to buy their life back and battle with their insurance company, they've taken up temporary residence in the Comfort Inn at a discounted rate while others have been staying with friends and family.\n"You go and talk to anyone on Duo Drive and they'll tell you," Randy said. "That place got hit bad and I think only one of them has gotten a dime from their insurance company so far."\nSome Indiana residents' financial troubles have been somewhat alleviated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that has been assisting Indiana residents affected by the disaster.\nFEMA offers crisis counseling, disaster unemployment assistance, legal services, grants and loans.\nAccording to figures released on Oct. 11 by FEMA and the Indiana State Emergency Management Agency, more than $1.5 million in disaster assistance grants and low-interest loans has been approved for applicants in the 32 Indiana counties eligible for individual assistance.\nFederal, state, local and voluntary agencies have also been assisting in recovery efforts, as well as the Small Business Administration which, as of mid-October, has approved $910,100 in low-interest home loans and issued a total of 1,170 loan applications.\nThe Hamiltons said while they're happy FEMA has been helping out, they don't think it should be necessary for the agency to give out money when people have an insurance company.\n"I think this whole thing is just crap," Randy said. "This is just the worst setup I've ever seen. You shouldn't have to go to the government for money after paying for insurance."\nEllettsville resident John Bybee, who sustained minor damages to his property, said he hasn't encountered any trouble with his insurance.\n"They seem to be doing just exactly what they said they'd do," Bybee said. "But I'm just one person. There are a lot of other people that may or may not be having problems."\nIndependent insurance claim adjuster Ron Hoffman said there are a myriad of reasons why insurance companies could be behind on this process.\nWhile normal insurance claims can take two days to two weeks to process and make payment, Hoffman said it's not unusual for three or more weeks to go by after a catastrophe.\n"I can't speak for each individual company," Hoffman said. "But most are very good at making timely payments. There can be a delay in making payments after a catastrophe. It has been my experience that most companies try their best."\nHoffman said companies are committed to getting claims processed as quickly and fairly as possible, but whether or not that could be accomplished might be inhibited by such a large workload.\nEllettsville had noticeably less damage than Martinsville, and the length of time it takes to receive insurance money can be affected by the number of claims filed, Hoffman said.\nThe process involves the policy holder filing a claim about their loss with his/her insurance agent, who turns it over to the agency, which gives it to the claims department to review and contact the policy holder. The agency then assigns an in-staff or independent adjuster, who determines the amount they will pay to compensate the policy holder's loss. \nSome policy holders can eliminate the middle man by calling direct to the claims department.\nThe Hamiltons said policy holders better have a big piggy bank to wait out the delays.\n"You better have a lot of money saved up or else you're going to be broke by the time the insurance company pays you back," Randy said.\nAnne nodded in agreement, advising that people would better off investing money in a reliable bank account than an insurance company. She said that way they could guarantee they'd get the full amount back when they needed it, sans paperwork and delays.\n"You wouldn't have to go through all the headaches," Anne said. "You think the insurance companies are there for you and they're not.."\nAlthough almost all policy holders are honest with their claims, Hoffman said there is a small portion that has made adjusters more cynical.\n"There are always two sides to every story," Hoffman said.\nHoffman advised policy holders to be patient, because they will get their answers and payment as long as they're willing to wait.\n"They'll catch more flies with honey," Hoffman said. "You should be persistent but polite. It's easier to get the results needed if you're patient and friendly"

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