11/27/2017

Botas en el Suelo

First-hand account of Hurricane Maria's devastation in Puerto Rico

By Eric Gilkey

Hurricane Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since the San Felipe Segundo hurricane wiped out the island in 1928 with hurricane-force winds that lasted 18 hours and caused up to $1.4 billion in damages in 2017 dollars. We spoke with Laura de Sordi, managing director, Latin America & Caribbean, for Cunningham Lindsey to find out what the scene was like from a claims perspective after what some catastrophe modelers are estimating will be insured damages of $40 billion.

How would you compare Hurricane Maria’s impact versus other historically significant storms that you may have worked in the past?

The extent of the damage of Hurricane Maria hitting more public infrastructures is more than the previous worst storm I’ve seen (Hurricane Georges in 1998). This provides us with a measure of how life remains after the storm, as public services were impacted to a much greater extent than Hurricane Georges. No other storm in my memory appears to compare to Hurricane Maria in terms of damage to Puerto Rico.

What were the unique challenges to Hurricane Maria’s Puerto Rico response?

Accessing the island was difficult. Water, power, and telecommunications are slowly coming back. Apart from most of San Juan, there are no telecommunication services available. In this era of dependence on communication services in which we live, these impacts are even greater than what might be expected. Furthermore, cash facilities and banks were closed and credit cards were not operating. (This also happened after Hurricane Georges, but only for two days.) Also, many of the aid workers, first responders, and secondary responders were deployed in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, so the pool of resources was already strained and, in some instances, drained.

What’s the mood on the ground among policyholders? What’s life like?

Stepping off the plane, it was clear to me in an instant that a serious disaster had occurred.

Closing a claim is only the start of the recovery process. How are you staying safe and nourished? How long are your days?

It was difficult to get drinkable water, food, and fuel since people had to queue for the first two weeks for hours at a time. There are very long lines to enter the few supermarkets that are open. But, surprisingly, the mood of the people queuing is ok; it seems they have accepted that this is what you have to do after such a big disaster.



Eric Gilkey is executive editor of CLM Magazine, a publication of the Claims and Litigation Management (CLM) Alliance. He may be reached at 513-273-8025, eric.gilkey@TheCLM.org.

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