Dealing with a natural disaster is hard for everyone, even an insurance attorney
Tricia Murray has been an insurance attorney for over 25 years and is currently a lawyer with ForbesGallagher, the law firm that powers Agency Checklists. Last week, Ms. Murray got a phone call that her home had been right in the path of one of the two Ef1 tornados that touched down on Cape Cod on July 23rd. The official announcements about the Tornado from the National Weather Service’s Twitter account confirmed the two tornados and their paths of destruction below:
After assessing the damage in an interview with The Boston Globe, we asked her if she wouldn’t mind sharing her story with our readers as well, and in particular her thoughts about lessons learned from dealing with this event.
Here is Ms. Murray’s first-hand account
Living on Cape Cod, one expects the occasional hurricane and the more frequent nor’easter, not an EF1 tornado. But that is exactly what arrived on Tuesday, July 23rd.
The Enhanced Fujita Tornado Intensity Scale is a measurement system for estimating the intensity of tornadoes after their impact. The scale runs from 0 (65-85 mph) to 5 (200+ mph). The EF1 tornado that touched down in South Yarmouth and Harwich had top winds of 110 mph. The National Weather Service reports the tornado in Harwich lasted just five minutes, but left a swath of destruction in its path measuring 250 yards wide and 2.77 miles long. It uprooted or snapped more than 150 hardwood trees. Fortunately, no fatalities or serious injuries were reported.
At the time the tornado touched down in Harwich, I was in Cambridge. I received a call from a neighbor reporting a downed tree in my front yard and then a photo of the same. The photo showed the tree missed the house by mere feet, but was lying squarely on the power lines.
I headed home, but I wasn’t sure what to do once I arrived. My hope in setting forth the steps I took is to offer some guidance if the reader ever finds herself in a similar situation.
I called the power company to report the tree resting on the power lines. They took a report of the issue and advised me to contact the police. The power company also advised that the power was off in the entire community and they were expecting a “multi-day” outage.
I then called the police non-emergency number and reported the situation. The dispatcher confirmed they were aware of the situation and that it was one of many downed trees on wires.
The third call I made was to my insurance agent. Would the significant costs of removing the felled trees, (there was another that just missed my house on the other side) be covered under my homeowner policy?
Like many Cape Cod residents, I am insured under an HO3 Owner Occupied policy issued by the “Fair Plan”, Massachusetts Property Insurance Underwriting Association. My agent explained this policy provides coverage for my dwelling. While there is a provision for debris removal, including “your tree(s) felled by the peril of Windstorm or Hail”, this provision is only for the reasonable expense for the removal of the tree(s) from the residential premises, not the grounds. The trees did not land on the residential premises, so the expense to remove the trees would not be covered.
Living without power
After making my phone calls, I assessed my lantern and flash light situation. Fortunately, I had a number of working flashlights and battery powered lanterns. In addition, my phone and lap top were fully charged. I grabbed some of my large coolers and transferred the perishables from my refrigerator and freezer into the coolers, icing them down with some bags of ice that I had on hand. We were able to eat, drink, read and play board games until the power returned the following day.
Yard clean up
By the time I arrived at home, the weather had cleared and turned into a lovely afternoon. I spent some time clearing smaller branches from my driveway and the road in front of my home. While working in the yard, I spotted and flagged down one of the power company’s tree trucks. They pulled into the driveway and removed the fallen limb from the wires. If I hadn’t been outside, I might have missed them.
Check-in with your neighbors
Once I was relatively settled, I checked in with the neighbors on either side of me. Both had similar tree damage, but again, no damage to their homes or person. We shared information about the storm and what we were hearing about clean-up efforts and power restoration. There may have been shared ice cream – hey, we wouldn’t want it to go to waste. The best part was sharing a sense of community and knowing that we weren’t experiencing this difficult situation alone.
As I write this article a few days after the tornado, I recognize gratitude is also a key part of successfully weathering the storm. If the tree fell a few feet to the left, or if the wires hadn’t been there to arrest the fall, I would have had a tree in my son’s bedroom. If the other tree limb had fallen backwards instead of forwards, I would have had a shattered living room window and a terrified dog. Those circumstances may have triggered coverage, but would have wreaked havoc on our family. Fortunately, a number of friends have offered their help and chainsaws to clear the felled trees.
I am grateful that I had the numbers for the power company, the police and my insurance agent pre-programmed in my phone so I was easily able to make the necessary calls. Having fully powered electronic devices and operating illumination devices resulted in a relatively pain-free blackout from the power loss. Having coolers and ice on hand allowed us to eat, drink and not waste food.
Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to express gratitude for the hard work of the Town of Harwich’s public works and public safety personnel. Their tireless efforts clearing roads and keeping everyone safe were first rate. Lastly, kudos to the library staff who opened early in the days following the tornado, allowing those without power a place to gather, access the internet and charge their devices.
All in all, my first (and hopefully last!) tornado was not that bad. I wish you the same.
More about the author
Tricia Murray represents businesses and individuals in litigating and resolving disputes. She advises insurance companies, insurance agencies and other business entities on a variety of matters including issues of insurance coverage, liability, and agency acquisitions. For those interested in contacting Ms. Murray, you can email her here.