MATTHEW WHO?: Insurance agents expect more claims from Irma

Due to the widespread impact and various types of damage incurred, Hurricane Irma is likely to be an even bigger event for insurance claims than last year’s major storm.


Doug Wiles, president of Herbie Wiles Insurance in St. Augustine, said Tuesday morning his office had dealt with a fair amount of claims already but was gearing up for a busy afternoon as people began filtering back onto Anastasia Island.

“We think this is going to be at least as busy (as last year),” Wiles said. “It will be at least as significant as Hurricane Matthew in terms of claims, if not more so.”

During Matthew, Wiles said his office saw about 700 flood insurance claims. He expects claims to stream in as more residents return home.

“We’re prepared to do as many, if not more,” Wiles said. “There’s a lot of people in rough shape. They just don’t know it yet.”

Over at ThompsonBaker, another St. Augustine insurance agency, vice president Dan Alexander said his company handled about 500 claims for flood insurance after Matthew. Like Wiles, Alexander said calls were trickling in Tuesday morning with lot more expected.

The various bridges in the county leading to Anastasia Island and Vilano Beach were closed until 11 a.m. Tuesday.

“It’s a little bit hard to determine what the extent of the damage is going to be on the island,” Alexander said. “That’s where the majority of the claims came from last year.”

Both Wiles and Thompson added that they noticed more people taking this year’s storm seriously, heeding evacuation orders and securing property as well as possible.

Alexander said he even found a few more people purchased flood insurance after seeing what happened last year.

That might have helped some homeowners mitigate damage, but Irma was such a powerful storm that it was inevitable some damage would occur.

For those facing flood or wind damage, insurance agents remind people that they can and should take steps to alleviate immediate concerns. In other words, those with roof damage should get a professional to place a tarp over it. Those with flood damage should try to get water out — but all actions should be done with caution.

“Don’t do anything foolish,” said Tim Huber of Huber Insurance in St. Augustine. “Be very careful of the water because there are power lines down. Don’t get on the roof if it’s not safe.”

Aside from immediate repairs, Huber said it’s important not to contract any major repairs until speaking with one’s adjuster.

“Don’t replace a roof with the first estimate you get,” Huber said. “Definitely talk to an adjuster before you do anything permanent.”

That might be a frustrating wait for residents of St. Johns County. Unlike last year when Matthew affected just a small portion of the state, Irma touched nearly every inch of Florida. And it struck just weeks after Hurricane Harvey caused heavy flooding in Texas and other areas of the South.

That means insurance personnel are liable to be limited right now.

“The resources are going to be stretched thin,” Wiles said. “And the help from outside Florida is probably going to be less than what it was in Hurricane Matthew.

“These were two significant storms, almost unprecedented, that did so much damage. So there’s a lot to do and only so many resources to go around.”

In the meantime, Alexander said it’s important not to sign away one’s rights to settlement benefits.

Some people enter into contracts with independent adjusters or attorneys. Alexander warned against doing that so early in the process. If a policyholder is dissatisfied, he or she can seek representation at a later time.

“That’s what we’re here for,” Alexander said. “If you have a situation with a company where you’re not happy with the amount they’re giving you, then get us involved first. That’s a lot easier. That’s what we’re getting paid for: to assist you as this goes along.

“Not immediately upfront should you be signing your rights away to your policy to somebody.”

All the local agents said they understand how difficult this storm has been to the community, especially after dealing with Matthew in October 2016.

“I’m 56 years old, lived here my entire life, been in the insurance business 27 years. And after Hurricane Matthew, they said that was a 100-year storm,” Alexander said. “And I was personally kind of hoping I didn’t have to worry about living through another flood event. Yet here we go all through it again less than a year later.”