Ken Mack knows the call can come at any time.
When it does, the Meadville-area man will be one of the first on the scene following a catastrophic event. He’s not an emergency responder nor a volunteer with any number of aid agencies — he’s a catastrophic loss insurance claims adjuster.
Mack, an insurance claims adjuster for more than 30 years, has been doing catastrophic loss claims since 1995.
Mack is certified by the federal government as a flood adjuster and worked last year following Hurricane Katrina documenting claims under the National Flood Insurance Program.
Flood insurance is a government-backed insurance program purchased through a local insurance agent. Flood insurance is a separate policy from homeowner’s insurance — which doesn’t cover flood damage.
He’s prepared for another hurricane season, but said the aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina
along the Gulf Coast was unlike anything he had ever seen.
“Katrina cut a path 200 miles wide — from Mobile, Ala., to 70 east of Louisiana,” he said. “The storm surge was 20 to 30 feet high. There was nothing left for six blocks inland.”
The surge left nothing but the slab foundation of homes within the first few hundred feet of the coastline.
Farther inland — beyond the initial six-block area — debris from the destroyed homes and businesses had been pushed inland filling up neighborhoods and damaging other homes and buildings.
“The debris was up to the roof lines,” he said pointing to pictures of devastation he had taken.
Though Mack and hundreds of other adjusters had headed toward Katrina three days before it made landfall, they couldn’t get in right away because damage to roads was so bad.
Adjusters also had to get gasoline for their vehicles directly from tanker trucks because there were no gas stations in operation, he said.
Communication was extremely limited, though cellular phones did work.
It often meant people would spray paint a message — such as “Alive and Well” on what was left of their home to let others know what had happened to them, he said.
He would tell people he was dealing with to spray paint their address on the site of their home. That was needed to make sure he was looking at the correct property since there was either no home or very little of it left, and no other landmarks such as street signs, he said.
Once on site, Mack to separate wind damage from flood damage since wind damage is covered under a homeowner’s policy and flood damage isn’t, he said.
“For those that didn’t have flood insurance, it was terrible,” he said of those in need of financial aid.
He estimated about 95 percent of the homes in the affected area along the Gulf Coast didn’t have flood insurance.
Those that did have flood insurance, financial help was on the spot, he said. The maximum amount of coverage a person can get under the flood insurance program is $250,000.
“Day after day I was spending a quarter million dollars,” Mack said of the claims he was handling because of the extent of the devastation.
“I’m the guy with the checkbook,” he said. “I’d evaluate and ask what to they need and write a check for a $10,000 to $20,000 advance while their claim was being processed.”
He also went to New Orleans to evaluate flood damage at homes there.
Because some of the homes had standing water in them for up to six weeks, it often meant donning a protective suit, a mask and full respirator to guard himself against mold that was growing inside the homes.
Working a catastrophic event day after day for 12 hours or more at a time can be hard he said.
“You have to focus on (the fact) you have a job to do and you can’t let your emotions get in the way,” Mack said.
There always is a positive side from a catastrophic event like a hurricane, according to Mack.
“You go there and it restores your faith in humanity,” he said. “Neighbors who didn’t really talk to each other before are helping each other. In the face of devastation you see the good side of people.”
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at email@example.com
The 2005 hurricane season was the busiest and most destructive on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
On average, the north Atlantic hurricane season produces 11 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes, including two major hurricanes.
In 2005, the Atlantic hurricane season contained a record 28 storms, including 15 hurricanes. Seven of these hurricanes were considered “major” — Category 3 strength or higher — and a record four hit the U.S.
For the 2006 north Atlantic hurricane season, there are 13 to 16 named storms predicted, with eight to 10 becoming hurricanes, of which four to six could become ‘major’ hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher.