Nov. 1 marked five months since an EF-3 tornado tore through Monson, but for 79-year-old Norma Germain, her daughter Geri and granddaughter Giselle, the day nearly signaled the end of Preferred Mutual's temporary housing payments, regardless of the uninhabitable state of their Stewart Avenue home.
The tornado caused a significant amount of destruction to the roof, siding, and windows of the home Norma has lived in since 1961. In early October, Preferred Mutual informed her that neglect of rebuilding in a time-efficient manner caused further mold and water damage that would result in a cutoff of temporary housing assistance. They have since been granted a 30-day extension but with more than two months of construction left, the Germains will once again face the prospect of displacement at the end of November.
"My mom [has] paid with [Preferred Mutual] for fifty years and had one tiny claim for a crack in the dining room ceiling. To be treated like this is so unbelievable," said Geri.
The Germains remained in their residence for about three weeks after the tornadoes because Complete Restoration, the company recommended by Preferred Mutual, failed to accurately identify the extent of water damage during their assessment due to the absence of a camera with infrared capabilities. Eventually, light fixtures filled with water fell from the ceiling and a musty, mildew-like smell filled the home.
Preferred Mutual's structural engineering assessor estimated the Germain family would need to relocate for a maximum of 30 days for reconstruction. After living in a room at the Sturbridge Host Hotel for about three weeks, Timothy Marini, the President of Western Mass. independent insurance agency FieldEddy, was able to negotiate temporary housing payments for the Germains, allowing them to rent a 3-bedroom house on Hovey Road. Norma has full insurance coverage, including $43,400 for loss of use; a policy that supposedly protects the insured in the event of home damages that require alternative living arrangements.
After limited communication from Preferred Mutual regarding itemizations and assessments following June 1, the Germains decided to hire public insurance adjuster Alfred Elk, hoping the move would help speed up their negotiations and the rebuilding process as a whole.
"The company has been difficult to deal with, the whole thing is like pulling teeth," said Elk. "The policy doesn't say anything about the length of time, it just says 'a reasonable amount of time.' The woman is elderly and every house in the neighborhood was destroyed."
Steve Larkin, the operations manager of Able Restoration, was hired to evaluate the extent of water damage. His assessment revealed significant water damage that requires the home's interior walls be taken down and a thorough dry-out of structural materials be performed.
"I walked through the house with [Steve Larkin], who had an infrared camera. He showed me there was water on all the walls except the bathroom upstairs and the wall with cupboards in the kitchen," said Kimball Morgan, of Kimball Morgan Contractors, the Germain's contractors.
The initial insurance check of $46,098 was sent to the Germains on June 24, but was void because their mortgage company, Financial Freedom, was in the process of changing their name. The check was not reissued until Aug. 19, but the mortgage company wanted a list and time frame of work because of their policy to disperse portions of payments depending on the percentage of project completion. This was not possible without Preferred Mutual's approval for Able Restoration to begin restoring the water-damaged interior and the Germains didn't receive the first portion of the check--about $22,000--until September.
“The insurance company sent them a partial check with no instructions that they could use that money to start fixing the roof and it definitely would not have covered putting the house back to normal the way the exterior and interior should be," said Kimball. "The damage in there is from the tornado. There could be some damage afterwards but not to the extent of damage seen with the infrared camera."
Preferred Mutual is claiming they have not received the water meter report from Able Restoration or the public adjuster, even though both parties said the report was sent electronically and in hard-copy. Without the paperwork, insurance will not pay for the restoration necessary to restore the home to a habitable state, even though Monson health inspector Lauri McCool assessed the residence on Oct. 28 to formally write a report of it’s current uninhabitable state, which includes health code violations.
“The floors are full of water and mold, the house is definitely not livable," said Kimball. “If we do it the way it should be all the interior walls should come out and dry for a week."
Kimball estimates that he could have the Germains back in their home in 8-10 weeks with proper communication between the parties involved. However, this time frame includes 4-6 weeks where the Germains will be without housing.
"To think that we have no place to live after [November], you're kidding me. My mom is pushing 80-years-old and I'm a single mother with a 10-year-old daughter," Geri said.
"We're praying that [Preferred Mutual] will see we have no where else to go and they will let us stay until our house gets fixed.”
The Germains are one of many struggling through a rebuilding process that has essentially become a full-time job since June 1. October’s historic nor’easter served as a reminder of winter's threat to the blue-tarped homes that remain as markers of the unforgettable tornado, the headaches it has caused and a future that remains unknown. Preferred Mutual, Able Restoration and Crawford & Company declined to comment, stating it is not their policy to discuss claims.
Photos courtesy of Geri Germain
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About the authors
Students in Steve Fox's Investigative Journalism & the Web class at UMass-Amherst have teamed up with the Globe to take a close-up look at the painful process of rebuilding from the June 2011 tornadoes that killed four and devastated communities in the Springfield area. Their work will also appear in the Boston Globe. Steve joined the journalism faculty at UMass-Amherst in 2007 and has 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at The Washington Post's award-winning website.