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Category: Preparing for Emergencies

Hurricane Andrew

The Untold Story- from the Journal of an Insurance Adjuster

by Nikki Willhite

Aug. 29, 1992- I had one of my three sons drive me to the airport at 6:45 in the morning. I carried a heavy ladder, and the biggest suitcase I had. I was stuck on the last seat on the plane- right over the engine noise. It was a long flight from Seattle to Miami. I developed a terrible headache.

After arriving in Miami, I had a long wait for my luggage and then I had to pick up my rental car. By this time my head was throbbing. I had fifteen blocks to drive to get to the hotel, where I could take my aspirin. However, it was dark, flooded, and there were no street signs to guide me. It took me 45 minutes to reach my hotel.

Upon arriving at the hotel I was told there was no water to take my aspirin. I searched in vain for a machine with liquid of any sort. Finally I went down to the kitchen, where for $5.00 they give me a soda pop.

I checked in at the desk for messages. There were none. I lay awake wondering what tomorrow would bring.

Aug. 30- I drove my car over to join my company team and receive instructions. Before setting off for my designated area, I buy bottled water, batteries, an umbrella, and a rain poncho.

My first assignment was 4 claims- on the same street. Then I drove toward Homestead. I was only halfway there when I began seeing the totally unbelievable destruction. I couldn't believe how bad it was, and I was only halfway there.

August 31- I paid over $200,000 today in just one day. I found myself very emotionally upset at the severe destruction. Not only that- it was difficult to drive around without any street signs. Everywhere that I stopped the people would rush around my car, which had the signs of my insurance company on it, asking for help. People were sitting outside of what was left of their homes, with their insurance company's names and their policy numbers written on whatever part of their home was left standing.

September 6th- I am being transferred into the hardest hit area of Hurricane Andrew. I write home "the only way to describe the destruction of this type of thing is to see it for yourself. I have seen a lot of storm damage in the past, but what sets this apart, is that it goes on for miles and miles. Today I was in a retired couples condominium. They were essentially camping out. The roof was gone, there was no air-conditioning, and they were living on a concrete floor. I have not seen these types of conditions since I left Mexico over 20 years ago".

September 20th- A lot of people here are under a lot of stress. Many of the claims are difficult to do, because the owners have just left. There are so many, many claims, and the people that are still here are so desperate. The pressure to get them all done as quickly as possible is severe. There are not enough hours in the day, and we are all feeling the burden of the long, hours of endless work. Many adjusters have left- unable to take to strain. Some did not last for more than a few days. It's like being in a "war zone". I must try and take a day off to relieve my stress.

September 28th- I called my wife tonight. It is hard on her for me to be gone so long. While I am talking to her, there is gunfire in the background. I hope she doesn't hear it. Yesterday, when I was doing a claim, 3 young men came up to the house with guns. The owner and I stood outside while they took away what was left in the house.

Oct 5th- Finally I am going home- for a few days. Then I must come back. I don't want to, but I am needed.

Oct. 8th- My son again drove me to the airport at 6:30 in the morning. This time I am prepared. I know what to expect. It does not make it easier. As I am flying away from Seattle again, I think of my wife and three sons, and how much I am going to miss while I am gone.

November 6th- the work goes on and on, but I will not be here to do it. This is my last night. Tomorrow I am going home and will not be back. I pray for these poor people and all they have been through. It has been so stressful for everyone involved. So many people have left. One of the other adjusters from my company had his hair turn totally white while he was here.

November 7th- I got up at 6:00 AM for my flight. After another very long day, I am finally home. When I got home, I found my luggage had been opened, and the money I had put in there was gone. After all I had done to help these people, it seemed a real "slap in the face". I was later to learn that luggage theft at the Miami airport was common. I wish I had known.

November 8th- It's Sunday, and after going to Church, I rested all day. There will be no other rest for me, as I have to go back to my regular job tomorrow. Tomorrow I will tell my wife the things that I dare not tell her when I was in Florida. It would have upset her too much. When she knows the whole story, she will understand why I am going out tomorrow to buy a gun.



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Category: Preparing for Emergencies

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