Hurricanes: Dean Trevelino's Story

Dean and his family lost their home in Atlanta, GA to Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne in September 2004. Here is his story:

The Rising Waters

My wife, son (who was four at the time) and I were in our home in Atlanta, a mid-century modern, one-level classic modern ranch, written up in Atlanta in the 50s as the first all plywood home in the city ... sensible modern they called it. Hurricane Ivan was the fourth in a series of hurricanes that year that ultimately raised the levels of the creeks so high that the neighboring creek rose and consumed our entire property.

We were in the home when the water rose around us. Within minutes our pool was lost to muddy, sewage-ridden black water; then it was in the home and rising quickly. I can still see my son on the bed as the water rose around him. I grabbed my son, wife and laptops, opened the front door to what appeared to be a rush of the nastiest water we had ever seen, making its way into our perfectly white modern home.

We left two cars in the garage including a 57 Speedster. I took my family to a nearby hotel and came back to try to salvage the cars. By that time, the home was completely engulfed by three feet and eventually four feet of water. The fire department would not let us in to retrieve anything.

Filing a Claim

The insurance process is brutal and unforgiving. Here are a few tips to make it a little easier:

  1. Hire a loss consultant if your insurance agency is not engaged (meaning they send a consultant vs an employee). That's a strategy they take to distance themselves from direct contact with the insured.
  2. Be wary of restoration companies who make their away around hurricane hit neighborhoods the day after to convince you they need to come in and begin to dry out your home otherwise you won't receive any insurance. We spent approximately $25,000 in 10 days trying to save our home only to be hit by Hurricane Jeanne 11 days later. That money is lost forever unless you can convince an insurance company they need to acknowledge claims on two hurricanes. We couldn’t despite an aggressive stance.
  3. Be as aggressive as you can with everyone – FEMA, insurance, city and state officials. It’s like the wild wild west and no one is playing by the rules so you need to get in people’s faces. At the end of the day, no insurance rep, city official or the like wants to go home at the end of the day knowing that if they don’t resolve your situation, they will be forced to deal with you the next day and the day after and the day after that.

Recording the Details

In today’s environment with technology, documenting is relatively easy:

  1. Shoot digital images of everything. Create a simple web site and load it all so that your insurance company, FEMA and city officials can source it easily. It doesn’t have to be pretty.
  2. Develop a spreadsheet of all your losses, estimating purchase date, price and current value. Prepare it room by room as a means of recalling everything.
  3. Hold onto all of that documentation because you will need to source it for tax purposes when claiming losses.

Lessons Learned

Since Hurricane Ivan and Jeanne, we’ve put the following methods into practice:

  1. We rebuilt our home nine feet off the ground and built it with concrete.
  2. We have an evacuation plan that will minimize the damage to our home and possessions.
  3. We have found an insurance company we believe is accountable, having had frank conversations about potential scenarios and understanding, most important, that they will send a company representative to your home, not a consultant.
  4. Learn about the building codes, especially if you are in a flood zone, and you’ll need a builder who either understands the codes or is willing to learn them quickly. I went down to the city and did battle with the inspectors and permitting office. I finished my home in 14 months following the hurricane, seven to navigate insurance, FEMA and the city and seven to construct.

The home across from me, now 44 months later, is still under construction because the investor and builder did not understand rebuilding in a flood plain. Assuming you don’t live in a flood plain and are rebuilding, I think you need to find a builder who is sympathetic to your situation, who will work with you on budget and realize speed is critical as you live and spend money in temporary housing.

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Reviewed: 5/2009