Loss adjusters had barely hung their wellies out to dry when the next deluge struck. Even as Yorkshire is inundated with clean-up work a month after the June floods, loss adjusters are shaking their heads in disbelief at the severity and timing of the floods in the West Midlands. A juggling act has ensued, with resources being furiously diverted to the newly-hit postcodes.
There is unanimous agreement that the West Midlands floods are as devastating as those in Yorkshire, if not worse. One experienced loss adjuster estimates that the more recently flooding will affect an area six to seven times the size of Carlisle.
For many adjusters it is just another day at the office. But the mask comes off when they come face-to-face with the individual details.
Andrew Dear of AMG, a hardened veteran with 22 years of experience in the field, may have seen it all before but says that it is the little things that remind him of the gravity of the situation.
In Tewkesbury last Thursday, where he was dealing with a claim for a housing association, Dear spoke of his experience:
“It brought home how society breaks down.There were about 80 people in the office building, power was restricted and there was no water to use the toilet or to make drinks. People had to use bottled water to fill the cistern. And this building wasn’t even directly involved in the flood.”
In the flooded areas in town there were no usable toilets to speak of – even the local McDonald’s was closed. Dear had to drive 10 miles to the nearest services on the motorway to use the loo.
“I returned wiser and better resourced the second day,” he says.
Dear literally lived out of his car, loading it with bottles of mineral water a change of clothes, socks and shoes plus sandwiches and rechargeable batteries for his camera and mobile phone.
“You become self-sufficient. The most important thing I carry is wet wipes to clean my hands of contaminants and the first thing I do when I get home is to charge my phone – I’m on it all the time.”
Although he is used to the stench that accompanies most disaster sites, he realises that most clients are not. He once entered a policyholder’s home with the family only to see them promptly leave to avoid throwing up.
“The smell that comes from sewerage and damp things can be overwhelming,” he says, pointing out that this is a reality you don’t see on television.
Dear finds strength in the elderly victims of the flood, those who have lost everything yet have still remained stoic in the face of adversity. He estimates only 10% have contents cover .
He says: “They have tremendous spirit. They’ve been through the Second World War and are quite resilient and philosophical. I haven’t found anyone in tears yet.”
When Cunningham Lindsey’s John O’Neill was preparing to speak to an audience in Doncaster at the start of a meet-the-policyholders programme last week, he immediately thought of a client he had kept in touch with from the Carlisle flooding.
“I asked what he’d say to the audience if he were in my shoes. His reply was: ‘Well, I’m standing here in my garden, the sun is shining and the grass is green. You have to believe you will get through it – and you will get through it. You have to fight the despair’.”
O’Neill passed that message on. There were smiles all around the room, no mean feat in a community where a lifetime’s possessions are still piled high on front lawns waiting to be taken to the landfill.
When O’Neill asked for a show of hands of those who were still living in their damaged properties, he was alarmed to learn that a majority were still doing so. They had not wanted to move out at the start and now there is an acute shortage of accommodation.
Adrian Spencer, property claims director at Zurich and originally from Hull, took a walk down memory lane when he revisited his former primary school after 30 years – except that the proverbial lane had turned into a raging stream the month before.
“The head teacher realised she had to evacuate the children as the water level was rising. The school field had literally turned into a river and teachers were carrying five-year-olds one by one across the school to safety.”
The day Spencer and his team visited Kirkella Primary School, children were having lessons in the school canteen and the school hall, as 10 classrooms had been ruined. This school was lucky, though, as it had been able to reopen after two days; others in the area won’t reopen until next year.
Spencer is in the midst of trying to put head teachers from Hull and the South West in touch with people who have been through the Carlisle floods to give them an insight into what lies ahead.