For those without much, Hurricane Michael creates hardship

Monday, October 15, 2018

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LYNN HAVEN, Florida (AP) — Mary Frances Parrish is expecting to be without electricity for weeks, or roughly the same time the terminally ill son she's caring for is expected to live.

In the days after Hurricane Michael smashed through her neighborhood, leaving many of her neighbours' homes destroyed, she and her son Derrell, 47, were planning to stay, with or without running water and electricity. The reason is the same she waited out the storm in the tiny house: She doesn't have a running car and she doesn't know where she would go.

“I didn't have a way of getting away from here. My car's under repair and there's nowhere to go or the money to pay for a place,” the 72-year-old Parrish said. “People are sending stuff in. I've got plenty of water, I've got cold drinks, I've got plenty to eat. It may be right out of the can, but it's plenty to eat. As long as you can have plenty to eat and drink and stay in good spirits, you'll make it.”

Parrish, whose son has cancer, is in a position many in the Panama City region are facing. They have damaged homes, no power, and don't have the resources to relocate, either to a new home or a temporary home. While others with more means have gobbled up hotel rooms in Destin 45 miles to the west, there are many who now no longer have a job and are forced to stay in damaged homes.

Around the corner from Parrish, Nanya Thompson, 68, was hanging clothes to dry from the power lines that were now dangling a couple of feet off the ground directly in front of her apartment door. All but two of the windows of the small home were blown out during the storm, and part of the roof came off, blowing water and insulation into it.

She was a hotel worker, but the hotel she worked at was damaged during the storm and now her job is gone. The owner allowed her to stay at the hotel until authorities said it wasn't safe for people to be there.

So, for now, she's staying put.

“I'm planning on staying until someone comes to go to the door and tells me to go,” she said, adding she's waiting for her social security cheque at the end of the month to help keep her going. “At my age it will be hard for me to get another job. I may not hold out here. I may just have to leave.”

But, Schneider said, the industry believes many Florida insurers would not survive if a major storm made a direct hit on Miami, Tampa or another major city. The reinsurance company Swiss Re estimated last year that a Category five storm hitting Miami could potentially cost the industry almost $200 billion. The state has about $17 billion in a fund to help private companies pay hurricane claims if they run into trouble.

Major insurance companies fled Florida's homeowners market after 1992's Category five Hurricane Andrew hit south of Miami, destroying much of the city of Homestead and causing $45 billion in damage, adjusted for inflation. After the companies fled, many property owners could only get policies from Citizens Property and its predecessor, peaking at about 1.5 million policies in 2012.

The state, wanting to reduce its exposure, for most of the last 20 years has been enticing smaller, niche companies into the market but required them to obtain reinsurance. The industry was also helped by a 12-year gap between hurricanes hitting the state from 2005 to last year. Their revenue is helped as Florida has the most expensive homeowners insurance in the nation, according to the Insurance Information Institute, with homeowners paying an average annual cost of just under $2,000 in 2015, the latest year available.

The push worked as Citizens' footprint has shrunk by 72 per cent, but remains the state's second-largest property insurer with about 420,000 policies — most of them in South Florida, far from Michael's damage zone. Spokesman Michael Peltier said the company estimates it will receive about 12,000 claims from Michael, but it hasn't calculated an expected loss yet. Because its policies are in the highest-risk areas of the state, its average policy costs nearly $2,600 annually, with a range from about $3,600 in Miami and the Florida Keys to about $1,700 in Taylor County, not far from where Michael hit.

The state's largest property insurer, Universal Property & Casualty Co, writes almost 600,000 policies. It did not return calls seeking comment.

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