For those who are still wondering about the process to receive some kind of financial assistance for recovery from Hurricane Irma, Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel say they are still committed to helping St. Johns County.
FEMA spokesman Gary Petty said the county recovery center at the UF Wind Mitigation “Hurricane House” on 3111 Agricultural Center Drive (near State Road 16) remains open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day to assist residents who have suffered some loss from the hurricane.
Petty said he’s heard reports that the local recovery center was about to close, but there are no immediate plans to shut down the operation.
“As long as the state requests us to be there, we’ll be there,” Petty said.
From Sept. 16 through Wednesday, Petty said more than 900 people have been helped through the process of registering for aid at the county center.
Petty said there are experts to help with FEMA assistance, Small Business Administration loans, state unemployment applications and storm mitigation.
“We’ve still got a lot of components there that can help assist people in trying to recover from this disaster,” Petty said.
Also in the middle of the recovery process is the insurance industry. According to the latest figures from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, there have been 7,628 insurance claims filed due to Irma with about 17 percent of them closed.
Statewide, there have been more than 661,000 hurricane-related claims.
Locally, Doug Wiles of Herbie Wiles Insurance said the claims from Irma have been different than Hurricane Matthew.
They also haven’t been quite as numerous. The state insurance regulation office recorded 10,802 claims in St. Johns County from Matthew and 119,345 in the state overall.
“We had fewer flood claims as a result of Hurricane Irma,” Wiles said in an email to The Record. “This storm was characterized by high winds over a greater area (St. Johns County as compared to the coastal areas) causing wind damage primarily to roofs.
“Many homes that flooded during Matthew did not flood during Irma. I believe many were better prepared for Irma and worked to protect their homes against rising water.”
Wiles said his office is mostly done taking claims. Instead, they are spending most of their time working with insurance companies to get claims settled. It’s probably going to be a long process with the huge number of claims.
“You can never respond too fast to someone with damage to their home,” Wiles said. “Claim response is slower because Irma caused widespread damage across the state. That along with significant damage in Texas due to Hurricane Harvey, has placed more demand on adjusting firms across the country.
“As with preparing for Irma, most who had damage from Matthew knew what to do and begin the repair process without waiting for an adjuster to call or visit.”
Wiles added that homeowners are supposed to be protected from insurance company non-renewals and cancellations, particularly for homes that were damaged by Irma.
An emergency order from the state insurance commissioner was issued Sept. 14 and states: “No company can cancel or non-renew a policy or issue a notice of cancellation or non-renewal between Sept. 4, 2017, and Oct. 15, 2017, except at the request of the insured.”