September of 1989 began an unprecedented series of natural disasters when Hurricane Hugo hit South Carolina. Little did we know at the time, this would begin a pattern of at least two major events per year for the next 10 years that would change the way insurance companies treated both consumers and their employees.
These events would include at least one major hail storm per year coupled with many others scattered throughout the southwest including hurricanes and earthquakes. Hurricane Andrew hit in August of 1992, becoming the costliest disaster on record for insurance companies with billions of dollars paid out in claims.
As a result, the “loyalty” from the insurance company once coveted by consumers took a direct turn to a total focus on the bottom line, profitability. No longer did it matter you had been insured with one company for 25 years with no claims, once you had a string of bad luck, you were canceled.
I was a storm trooper, which meant when one of these disasters occurred, I would be sent to the disaster area for a month of handling claims for the people affected. One Tuesday evening in October of 1989, I was packing to go to Charleston to relieve the initial group of storm troopers who had already been there for a month. My plane reservations were made, I was to fly out on Thursday. I had the World Series on as the Battle of the Bay was taking place between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. The announcers were spewing their pre-game analysis when all of a sudden their eyes got wide, and wider, and the camera began to shake. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake had hit Northern California! The Bay Bridge collapsed, killing several and injuring many others. Gas lines broke in San Francisco with many fires erupting. It appeared San Francisco had been hit with another monster like back in the early 1900’s.
The next day, I went into my office and had a message saying I needed to cancel my ticket to Charleston, and I was to fly into Santa Jose, Calif. and be there Friday. Needless to say, this was a little scary, considering the fact some expert named Ivan Browning was all over CNN predicting this one was “small” compared to the one that was going to hit in the next 30 days. Are you kidding me?!
So I fly into San Jose and now have to report to Santa Cruz, Calif., which is near the epicenter of the quake in the Loma Prieta Mountains above Santa Cruz. This would be my territory for the next 30 days. It was a beautiful place, but not while the earth was shaking. For the next month, there were at least two major after-shocks on a daily basis that registered between 5.4 and 6.0 on the Richter Scale. These are considered major earthquakes in times when a 7.1 has not occurred! They always occurred late in the evening between 8 pm and 4 am, then another one during the day between 2 pm and 4 pm. I literally would be awakened during the night with the bed bouncing up and down off the floor. It was customary before retiring for the evening to look down at the parking lot below from the 2nd floor of the two story hotel to see what type of car I may be jumping onto when the big one hit!
For those of you who know a little about insurance, you must have an earthquake endorsement attached to your homeowner’s policy or there is no coverage. Well, at that time in California, if you had a mortgage you were required to have earthquake coverage, and the minimum amount was $100,000. The first claim I inspected was one mile from the epicenter of the earthquake. I arrived at the home before the homeowner and found a gorgeous home built on the side of a mountain that was now two feet off the foundation, ready to slide down with the next heavy rain or after-shock. When the homeowner arrived, I was told Mrs. Homeowner was soaking in the tub when the big one hit and a TV she was watching was hurled into the water with her. Thank goodness it came unplugged or we all know what would have happened.
After spending a couple of hours with them explaining the process and writing an advance check, I went to my next inspection less than a mile from this one. I walked up to the door mat, looked down about 40 feet and saw the home flattened where it had slid off the side of the mountain. I never will forget how strange it felt to see that. The Honda Accord that had been in the garage had the front end exposed and was looking straight up at me. Imagine my meeting with that property owner. They had lost it all.
All in all, it was pretty easy work. Show up, take photos, issue advance payments for somewhere to live, write an estimate and a week later cut a $100,000 check to the property owner with the mortgage companies name on it.
Needless to say, after working three straight weeks before getting a day off, my nerves were getting a little “shot”. On our day off, me and some new friends I was working with, drove the scenic Highway 1 to Monterey and Carmel, all along the way taking photos of the awesome scenery. I had never seen something so beautiful in my life as that coast line. My worries and fears subsided after that day long trip, because in my mind I had seen heaven.
My final week was a good one. I got word that the Vice-President of the largest insurance company in the United States was going to ride with me to inspect a large home that had been damaged. This homeowner had bought full coverage. When all was said and done, I issued the largest check in my insurance career to them, $646,000. They would rather not have received it and lived a normal life.
This is the second story in my “Life and Times of an Insurance Adjuster” series. I’ll be sharing more stories about my personal experiences in the near future, so stay tuned!
Tags: 1989 earthquake, 1989 world series, atlanta, atlanta real estate, Battle of the Bay, Bay Bridge, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Metro Brokers, California, georgia, Glen Curry, Hurrican Andrew, Hurrican Hugo, insurance adjuster, insurance policy, metro brokers insurance, Real Estate, real estate agent, san francisco earthquake, Scenic Highway 1, South Carolina