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Lessons Learned From Hurricane Katrina Apply To The Virgin Islands


CHRISTIANSTED – As the nation marked the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with memorials and celebrations, all along the Gulf Coast the milestone was marked with fundraisers.

Time may have moved on for the majority of Americans, but in states like Louisiana and Mississippi, there is still work to be done and there are still re building efforts underway.

As a part of the Virgin Islands community, St. Thomas public adjuster Tutwiler and Associates has worked with property owners in the territory and several other states and they say things have certainly changed from a property insurance standpoint since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana 10 years ago.

The licensed and certified public adjusters at Tutwiler and Associates, with offices throughout Florida and in nine other states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, say there are many lessons learned as a result of the insurance claims process stemming from Hurricane Katrina.

This storm was a wake-up call about the insurance coverage issue of trying to determine what damage was caused by wind and what was caused by the flooding in the aftermath.

While the storm was one of the five deadliest hurricanes and the sixth strongest hurricane overall in U.S. history, the property insurance claim experts at Tutwiler and Associates say a silver lining to the storm has emerged ten years later.

“If we can take anything positive away from Hurricane Katrina, it’s that it was a big learning lesson across the board,” said Rick Tutwiler, one of Tutwiler and Associates’ property insurance experts. “People now know how important it is to have a flood policy in addition to their homeowner’s wind policy. On a government level, on an individual level, and certainly on a property insurance policy level, so much of what we do now is based on the damages caused by Hurricane Katrina five years ago.”

Those damages continue to be felt all along the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina is the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history and, according to a National Hurricane Center report, caused more than $81 billion dollars in total property damage.

Tutwiler and Associates has offices with licensed and certified public adjusters in the Virgin Islands and they say while there is certainly no predicting just how powerful or damaging a storm can be, property owners can do a handful of things to ensure they recover a fair and honest settlement from their insurance policies in the event of a major property loss.

“Document your property as much as you can and as extensively as you can,” Tutwiler said. “Take pictures of the property before the loss . Keep a log of model numbers, serial numbers, and receipts. Being proactive will help expedite the claim and give the property owner a better chance at recovering what they paid for their property.”

The Virgin Islands public adjusters at Tutwiler and Associates say while this property certainly includes “big ticket” personal property items like appliances, electronics, and furniture, property owners shouldn’t neglect structural pieces of their property as well. This includes documenting the conditions of things like the roof and as well as other structural components of the insured building.

A positive take away from Hurricane Katrina should be that everyone should now be aware of the difference between a flood loss which is not covered in most property policies and the wind coverage in their property insurance policy.

Flood insurance is available for a nominal fee from the federal government through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. For more information please click on the following link:

Of course the biggest lesson of all Virgin Islanders learned in Hurricanes Hugo and Marilyn – Be prepared, always be prepared.

hurricane hugo

Queen Cross Street in September 1989

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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