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Insurance adjusters at blast site early on helping families rebuild


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They have spent more than a week at the site of a southside explosion, seeing the most devastated homes and trying to help those residents find a place to live for days, weeks or months.

Residents began filing insurance claims the morning after a massive blast killed two people and damaged dozens of homes in a southside neighborhood. Local insurance claims representatives have since been working at the site to help Richmond Hill residents.

They’ve been helping displaced residents move into motels, arranging for months of shelter in some cases and assessing extensive damage. They’re having structural engineers look at houses to make sure they’re safe to return to and helping arrange for repairs to broken windows, smashed-in garage doors and cracked drywall.

Insurance workers have found homes that might have to be torn down and rebuilt, and houses down the block with so much smoke damage that all the furniture will have to be cleaned and refurbished. They’ve seen roofs that are starting to buckle.

Can you help?

The residents of Richmond Hill have asked that donations be sent to a centralized location instead of various agencies. Here’s how you can help:

Go to: southportpc.org/relief to make a donation online.

Call: 536-2900 if you want to donate large items or have large quantities to donate.

Donate: Leave items at the Southport Presbyterian Church’s campus at 7525 McFarland Blvd., Indianapolis.

Give money: Money and gift cards can be donated in person at the McFarland campus or at the Southport Presbyterian Church’s administrative offices at 1427 Southview Drive.

Indianapolis city officials estimate the blast caused $4.4 million of damage to 86 homes throughout Richmond Hill. Residents in nearby neighborhoods also have been filing claims, said Keith Wesner, fire claim team manager for State Farm Insurance.

Coverage can vary, but a standard homeowner’s policy should cover repairs or a rebuilt house if necessary, Wesner said. The policies also cover additional living expenses if a resident has to move out during repairs or while the house is being rebuilt.

Indiana Farm Bureau property field claims representative Mark Williams was surprised at the amount of damage he’s seen in Richmond Hill. He’s been to inspect three houses, all at least a block away from the center of the blast on Fieldfare Way.

“You would have thought that the houses in between would have protected them from damage,” he said. “But there are garage doors blown in, front doors blown in, cracks in the drywall, walls blown out.”

Williams said he hadn’t seen destruction of that magnitude since he went to the scene of the tornado in Henryville in southern Indiana.

Both situations were unreal, he said.

“When you first go in there, it looks like something from a movie set,” he said. “You can’t imagine that type of devastation, how that happened. There were police cars clogging the streets, helicopters flying overhead. You had to pinch yourself to tell yourself this is real.”

Williams thought about what residents went through, how many were likely asleep or watching television in bed when the massive explosion rattled the neighborhood.

“There was no preparing for it,” he said. “It was out of the blue. It’s hard to imagine what they were going through. It just changes your view of home safety and security. You’d normally think you’d be safe and secure in your home on a Saturday night.”

Residents whose homes suffered severe damage might have to live in rental properties for three to six months while they rebuild, Williams said. Their insurance covers emergency lodging, temporary shelter and additional living expenses such as extra money to pay for meals if they’re living in a motel.

A few residents who have moved back in might have to temporarily be relocated while repairs are being made, Williams said.

Others can’t return because it’s not safe or because of the extent of the damage, he said.

The shock wave of the explosion broke a window of one home, and the fire down the block caused extensive smoke damage in the house. All the furniture likely will have to be cleaned, and Williams is arranging to have refurbishing specialists take a look.

State Farm has received 45 explosion-related claims from Richmond Hill and surrounding neighborhoods so far, Wesner said. The first claims were filed the next morning, and agents were at the Southport Presbyterian Church by noon Sunday to meet with homeowners.

They’ve helped move some of the residents from motels into extended-stay lodging, so they’ll have kitchens to cook in, Wesner said. The insurance company is looking to arrange for temporary housing in rental properties during repairs.

The amount of damage varies, but it’s widespread, he said.

“There’s insulation throughout the addition,” he said. “Windows are blown out. Garage doors are blown in. There’s damage to roofs and siding. There’s glass. There’s a lot of glass all over the neighborhood.”

How to prepare

An insurance company is offering people tips for what they could do to prepare themselves for an emergency such as the far southside explosion:

Create a written or video inventory of the contents of your home and their value. Store this documentation in a safe deposit box outside the home.

Review your current homeowner or renter insurance policy to help ensure that you have sufficient protection. Confirm that all phone numbers for your insurer are accurate.

Gather and store important documents like identification, proof of ownership and insurance papers in a water- and fireproof container outside the home, such as a safe deposit box, or with a trusted out-of-town friend or relative.

Identify two meeting locations for your family in the event of a disaster; one outside the home and one outside the neighborhood should you be unable to return home.

Agree on an out-of-town family member to contact in the event of an emergency and family members are separated. Ensure that everyone knows his/her phone number.

Choose two escape routes from every room in your home and at least one route out of the neighborhood.

Consider what items you would want to take with you if you had only 15 minutes to evacuate your home.

Help reduce the economic impact of a disaster by creating an “emergency savings account” that could be used in a crisis. Consider keeping a small amount of cash or traveler’s checks in a safe place where you can get to it in case of an evacuation.

Help ensure that in-home warning systems are up-to-date by testing batteries in smoke detectors monthly and purchasing a battery-operated radio to receive emergency updates.

Conduct a search around your home to identify potential disaster-causing defects such as overutilized electrical outlets, clogged chimneys, or an abundance of fire-combustible materials in or near the home.

SOURCE: Allstate Insurance Co.

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