By LINDA CHION KENNEY
When Amy Moore Somers learns of a hurricane’s approach, it doesn’t matter if the storm is headed toward her home along the Alafia River, just miles from the Riverview border, or intensifying in strength hundreds of miles away enroute to a distant coast.
The anticipation either way is unsettling for Moore Somers, who knows firsthand what it means when the storm strikes, the waters rise, the flood ensues, the house is condemned, the losses are staggering and the insurance claims that took years of research, filings and court hearings to address yield settlements and rulings that fall dramatically short of expectations.
Such was the scenario for Moore Somers and her husband, Joe Somers, a retired veteran, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which thundered through Tampa Bay in the early hours of Sept. 11, 2017.
In an interview this month, days after Hurricane Idalia struck the Florida panhandle, Moore Somers said she’s anxious when a hurricane heads toward land, because she knows in the days and years that follow, there will be others like her and her family who will bear the burden of formidable loss.
“I’ve had my meltdowns and my moments, but it’s just like anything in your life that goes wrong,” Moore Somers said. “You can reflect on the past, but you can’t change it. I have to think about the positives I can take from this negative situation. And for me, it’s about how can I educate people who are going through a similar situation.”
It’s also about the bottom line, which for Moore Somers and her family resulted in the only option left, to “start over from the beginning and rebuild.”
“We won, but we didn’t win,” said Moore Somers, about the ruling of a retired judge, acting as a mediator, and the settlements that fell woefully short of needs and expectations. That’s because the house in question eventually was condemned, which meant it had to be torn down. “And even if we could fix it, we couldn’t fix it where it was, because by that time, the flood zone had been changed,” Moore Somers said.
“So peaceful, so pretty” is how Moore Somers describes the property she and her husband bought on the Alafia River in 2015, which came with three layers of decking overlooking the river. They were game for the work that had to be done to upgrade the house, as they settled in for a life of riverfront living with their children from different marriages.
Then came Hurricane Irma, which threatened a direct blow to the Tampa Bay area. A last-minute turn before landfall spared the region the worst, but not for the Somers family, hopeful in the hours following the hurricane strike in September 2017.
Family members that night stayed with friends, after they collected debris and witnessed a river’s rising that stopped short of their front door. All was good. The next day, not so much, as Moore Somers claims the locks that had held the Alafia River in place further up the bend were loosened, which led to a release of water, mud and muck that gushed through her family’s home, resulting in a loss of shelter and just about everything they owned.
Mortgage payments continued, however, added to rent payments for the RV home placed beside the condemned home. Other expenses added up as well, including those for clothes, shoes, pillows, sheets, blankets, cleaning supplies, dishes, cutlery, pots and pans. Everything in the house that had been condemned, including personal papers and memorabilia, had been destroyed in the floodwaters.
That’s a lot to bear, as ruminations over what wrong, why and how, take hold. “It’s a mindset that takes hold, and you need to constantly tell yourself you can’t go back and change your situation,” Moore Somers said. “We can kick ourselves for sure, for the things we didn’t know, but you can’t go back and change the past. You have to go forward and think, what does forward look like.”
Step one is to focus on the positives, which for Moore Somers includes her family’s health, its deep faith, and the strength they gained sticking together in even the most tumultuous of times.
There’s the wisdom they gained about property insurance, mortgages, attorneys, adjustors, court hearings, research and more, much of which they wish they had known before they adjusted to life on the Alafia. For one thing, Moore Somers said, flood insurance is capped at $250,000, and that doesn’t come close to paying for the house that is lost and a new home to house your family.
“It’s the flooding that got us,” Moore Somers said. “We would have been better off if a tree had fallen on our house, because that falls under regular homeowner’s insurance, which we had, and which included content coverage. We did not understand that our flood insurance did not include the same content coverage.”
Her tips for others, “read and understand what you sign, and make sure you’re protected,” Moore Somers said. Double-check the adjustor’s report, to ensure it covers all items affected and damaged, and don’t assume the insurance company and attorney are always acting in your best interests. Most important, keep your wits about you and don’t let the losses be all-consuming.
“We lost everything, and now we have less to lose,” Moore Somers said. “We have a place to live and we’re safe. My anxiety is not for me, but for the community and the businesses that get destroyed next. And don’t believe it can’t happen to you, because if it’s not a storm, it could be something else. Put a plan together, have faith and make sure you’re covered.”