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Preparation is an important part of hurricane season

Sept. 7, 2011 at 4:07 a.m.

Fay Strawn walks on the ground where her Ganado home stood before Hurricane Carla destroyed it in 1961. "Now, if I hear about a storm brewing, I load the car and get out of the way."

ADVOCATE STAFF REPORTChange is coming to the windstorm claims process.

The Texas Legislature in June called a special session regarding hurricane claims, said Mark Hanna, public relations manager with the Insurance Council of Texas.

People at the time were still filing claims from Hurricane Ike, which hit in September 2008, he said, and mounting claims bankrupted the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency.

"They had to turn to the Legislature for more money," Hanna said. "Lawmakers said they can't have another Ike hit the Legislature."

Subsequent changes, which take effect Sept. 28, give people one year to file a windstorm claim, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.

Other steps in the claims process, according to the insurance council, include:

After filing, a panel of experts determines whether hurricane losses were due to wind or storm surge.

Property owners who disagree with their insurance adjuster's proposed reimbursement amount must request an appraiser to help determine damages. The Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency will obtain its own appraiser and an "appraisal umpire" will also be selected. The appraisal process is binding but the decision can be challenged in court if the appraiser, umpire or decision was fraudulent or corrupt.

If the windstorm insurance agency denies coverage on a claim, property owners can give notice of intent to sue. Before going to court, and if the agency requests it, they must enter mediation in an attempt to resolve the issue without litigation. If mediation does not result in an agreement, the case can go on to court.

If a policyholder purchases an arbitration endorsement on a windstorm insurance policy and the claim is in dispute, an arbitrator will hear both sides and make a binding decision. No lawsuit would take place afterward.

For storms that bring more than $1 billion in Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency claims, coastal homeowners and vehicle owners would be subject to charges to repay additional bond debts.

For more information, visit

Looking to prepare your family and home for hurricane season? Here are a few tips:

Develop a family disaster plan. That includes:

Finding the fastest routes to safe areas

Knowing disaster plans for one's workplace, children's schools, day cares and more

Keeping the vehicle gas tank full

Designating an out-of-state friend or relative as a family contact

Strengthen your home against damage. That includes:

Reinforcing openings such as windows, doors and garage doors

Having a roofing professional evaluate the home and, if necessary, make upgrades to protect the roof and shingles

Applying a sealant between the wall and trim to anchor soffits to the home

Sealing cracks or holes with caulk

Clearing the surrounding area of garbage cans, grills and other items that could damage the home

Inspecting tie-downs and straps for wear and tear for those in mobile homes

Source: State Farm tip sheet

The Advocate will observe the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Carla hitting the Gulf coast with a three part series beginning Friday.

As Hurricane Carla slammed the Crossroads 50 years ago, many residents fled to safety.

The Strawn family, who sought refuge in Lockhart, was among those evacuees.

"I knew something bad was happening," Fay Strawn said of the night her husband and children left Ganado. "That night, I couldn't sleep."

There was something to that gut instinct.

Carla's heavy winds shifted the family's Mizell Street home so its underlying gas lines broke, she said. The home filled with flammable gas and, eventually, exploded.

"The firemen who saw it said it was just a ball of fire," she said. "You never really think anything's going to happen to you. Not like that."

The loss came decades ago, but hurricane season comes every year, and it pays to be prepared.

Storm season hits its peak Sept. 10 and 2011 has been an active year, said John Metz, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Fourteen named storms had already been reported by Wednesday. The average is two.

"The season really hasn't even gotten started yet," he said, urging people to make evacuation plans. "You cannot let your guard down."

There are ways to fortify the home against damage, said Amelia Taurel Folkes, a State Farm community and media relations specialist.

Purchase brackets for the garage door, she suggested, and install dead bolt locks with 3-inch screws. Change exterior doors so they open out, rather than in, she said, noting it protects against heavy winds and burglary.

Insurance is also important, she said, and a lull during storm season is the perfect time for homeowners to make sure they have enough coverage, and the right kind.

"A call to the insurance agent is free," she said. "Ask questions. Go over scenarios. That's what they're there for."

When it comes to purchasing insurance, certain boundaries apply, said Mark Hanna, public relations manager with the Insurance Council of Texas.

Flood insurance takes 30 days to take effect, while windstorm insurance is effective immediately. If a storm has already entered the Gulf, however, a person can not purchase the windstorm variety.

Hanna encouraged people to take pictures and video to document their belongings, which helps in the storm's aftermath.

Strawn, whose home was underinsured, echoed Hanna and Folkes, encouraging homeowners to not only speak with an agent, but to make sure they understand their policy.

"We lost so much," she said, citing everyday items and keepsakes such as high school diplomas and her marriage license. "When you come home to nothing, it's awful."

Strawn, now 86, never could bring herself to see the home in the storm's aftermath. Instead, her husband, Olsie Strawn, took cleanup efforts into his own hands.

In the meantime, a family friend offered a garage apartment, others offered items and support and the small family gradually rebuilt their lives.

The situation might have been difficult, but things happen, Strawn said.

"There's a reason," she said. "I think everything's under a plan."



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