ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla.—At least 37,000 people have now filed insurance claims in the state of Florida for damage inflicted by Hurricane Matthew, totaling roughly $200 million in personal financial losses, the state’s insurance commissioner said Wednesday.
Commissioner David Altmaier joined Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater in St. Augustine Wednesday morning as they toured the Davis Shores neighborhood, one of the county’s most devastated areas.
Some property owners in the subdivision, like Joe Saviak, have filled entire dumpsters with personal items after losing nearly everything in the hurricane.
When Saviak returned home from his evacuation, he discovered that four feet of water had rushed through his entire home.
“It’s a total loss,” Saviak said, “it destroyed every belonging we had in the house.”
Atwater met with Saviak and several of his neighbors, consulting with them about the insurance claims process.
Atwater, a Republican who leads the Florida Department of Financial Services in his role as chief financial officer, pushed the insurance industry to meet the demands of the people who suffered damage. He called on insurers to provide enough adjusters to accommodate every individual and family and assess every report of damage.
Dozens of insurance executives joined the tour of Davis Shores to see the wreckage from a first-hand perspective. Along the way, Atwater expressed confidence in the industry’s ability to handle the millions upon millions of dollars of claims throughout the state.
“I don't see any concern that this should be a financial issue for anyone. But now it has to be about performance—management and team performance,” Atwater said, following the tour. “And their presence here today expresses that they intend to do that."
The Davis Shores subdivision was particularly vulnerable to the hurricane for a variety of circumstances.
“A lot of homes that have flood intrusion, we had a double-digit storm surge on top of a high tide on a sea level barrier island,” Saviak said, “guaranteeing flooding."
Saviak is one of the lucky ones—he has federal flood insurance. However, the majority of Americans do not have flood insurance, which specifically covers water and storm-surge damage.
And that has major implications for the people of Florida after Hurricane Matthew. Typically, wind damage will cover a homeowner’s policy with a Florida insurer, but any flood damage suffered during Hurricane Matthew will likely only fall under the federal flood insurance category.
Altmaier, the head of the state’s insurance commission, said it’s a lesson for people who live in flood-prone areas of Florida.
“In terms of flood insurance, I think just educating folks on how important it is to have that coverage… At this point in time, I’m not sure there’s anything we can do retroactively,” Altmaier said, “But we will certainly be on hand as a resource for consumers who are trying to find their way through that claims process.”
For the insurance industry, though, that process is only in the beginning stages. Altmaier said he expects thousands of more people to file claims in Florida, once they assess their damage in the coming weeks.