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SW Florida still dealing with Irma

May 31, 2018
By CJ HADDAD (cjhaddad@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Although a new hurricane season is here, many Cape Coral and Southwest Florida home owners are still feeling the affects of last year's historical storm.

Lee County residents, almost nine months after Hurricane Irma blew through, are still maneuvering through insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Small Business Administration disaster loans to return their property to its pre-hurricane state.

Founder of Operation Open Arms, a 501(c)(3) charity that has been operating since 2005, John "Captain Giddy Up" Bunch feels FEMA has let him down.

OOA has been recognized nationally for its philanthropical work, offering active duty military personnel fishing trips, vacations, weddings and other services including same day PTSD counseling.

"I've done over $15.5 million in services for our troops," Bunch said.

He recently received a prestigious Navy medal, the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award for his work with OOA. This award has only been given to 27 other recipients.

Bunch, a former U.S. Marine officer, calls St. James City home and runs OOA from there.

Following Irma, Bunch found his home with "Three, Frisbee-sized leaks" in his ceiling, he felt the damage was minimal due to water being blown under the shingles.

Bunch, as many residents did, went to one of the big box stores to add his name to the list of home owners needing a "FEMA blue roof" to protect from more leaking while waiting for repairs.

"The roof lasted two to three weeks and the subcontractors FEMA hired to put this blue tarp on did a hack job; I got a call from a neighbor while I was in D.C. saying it was blowing around the neighborhood," Bunch said.

According to Bunch, the blue roof did not serve its purpose, it only exacerbated the situation.

Water was continuing to leak into Bunch's home, causing the small leaks to grow into "surfboard sized leaks."

"I would've never gone to sign up to get the blue roof if I knew I'd be shooting myself in the foot," he said.

"With the water continuing to come through my ceilings, the damage multiplied 10-fold. I had to pay another roofing company $300 out of pocket to properly put on another blue roof," he said.

Bunch's issues with FEMA only start there, as he began the process to receive grant money to help levy the damages his house had suffered.

"I went through all of the interview processes in Bonita Springs with FEMA and SBA to try and find some financial relief."

Bunch said he had flood insurance and home insurance, but not a hurricane or wind policy which he said are distinctly different.

He said he endured an "audit-like" process and repeatedly jumped through the same hoops and had to provide many financial documents to both FEMA and SBA.

He was not eligible for an SBA loan, leaving FEMA grant money as his only option.

Bunch brought contractors in to assess the damage to his home post-blue roof placement and says they found around $70,000 worth of damages to his home.

"Between contractors and roofers, the damage was far worse than the original leaks. As they grew, water spread throughout my walls. I paid $15,000 out of pocket for a new roof, which still hasn't been installed yet due to back ups after Irma. I can't do any construction until I get a new roof. I need to rip out the sheet rock, put in a new ceiling and made $4,500 in emergency electrical repairs," said Bunch.

FEMA sent an inspector to his home. Bunch said "he did not even get on my roof to inspect it, rather, he looked at it from across the street."

A slap in the face to Bunch, the first check he received from FEMA was for $341.70, for all of the damages inside his home.

A second payment of $1,000 was sent to him after fighting with FEMA who said they had paid him in January, Bunch finally received it in April.

A third payment, of $4,660 was sent to Bunch for his emergency electrical costs.

And just this past week, on May 29, he received a payment of $1,912.

"Every one was getting grant money for $33,000. I'm wondering why someone who has given back so much to military personnel, never took a dime from his own charity and has so much in damage costs, is only receiving a just under $8,000?" he asked.

"I only stand to receive the $33,000 (maximum; I'm not looking for $70,000. I want what everyone else got," Bunch added.

His mission statement for FEMA reads as"To try and frustrate and instill a sense of quitting for those who apply for FEMA grants."

Bunch is not currently living in his home in St. James City, as mold has developed due to the wet conditions.

"I'm just trying to save my house and OOA, it'd be tough to pull a great charity out of Florida" he said.

Bunch is fearful he may not have the means to restore his home and would have to move OOA up north to his second home; he's even sold a car to help pay for his roof.

"I just want fair and equal treatment for all who need it, some may not have a voice or the capacity to fight, but you better believe I'll fight until I can't swing anymore."

When asked about maybe looking to the community for help, Bunch responded, "I have asked so much for so many people, I don't have the audacity to reach my hand out."

Bunch refuses to use any OOA money to pay for his damages, and said FEMA is not holding itself to a high standard.

"A great charity looks for ways to approve benefits, not deny them. Don't look for reasons not to do something."

Bunch is still currently working to get the funds he believes FEMA owes him.

"Just take a look when you fly in and out of Southwest Florida at the thousands of blue roof homes we still have," Bunch said.

Congressman Francis Rooney said, overall, FEMA has OK for Southwest Florida.

"We got 90 percent reimbursement from FEMA, as opposed to their normal 80 percent and received payments in installments instead of all at once after. The progress payments ease the cash-flow of the cities, with no huge debt to ask for after," he said.

"There are still rooftops damaged, but most have been brought back to normal."

Rooney's office has lent a hand to those seeking monitory relief from Irma.

"It's a big part of our job. We contacted FEMA and SBA and got representatives in a room for residents over many districts in Florida. We helped people with paperwork and essentially put on a disaster recovery job fair."

What did Rooney learn from last year's record storm?

"We learned you can't be too prepared. Gov. Scott did great work as well. We're looking at our supplies such as gas and generators and how we could keep pumps open despite power-outages."

Rooney said he thinks FEMA did a decent job despite the "given circumstances," with about 90 percent of counties in Florida affected by Irma.

"Our website is to remind people of what to do in these situations. Know your evacuations routes, we are encouraging people to be vigilant in preparedness this year," Rooney ended.

FEMA by the numbers in Florida after Irma (according to FEMA.gov):

- FEMA provided trailers and apartment units to 318 households in Collier, Hendry, Lee and Monroe counties.

- Households have received $497 million to pay rent.

- Survivors have received $173 million for home repairs.

- Survivors also received nearly $68 million to replace household items.

- Nearly $7.1 million in disaster unemployment assistance has helped Florida workers whose jobs were affected by Irma.

Others have had issues with insurance reimbursement.

A Cape Coral resident, Shelley Lack, found her bedroom and two more spots in her living room leaking water after Irma tore shingle after shingle off of her roof she had been living under since 2000.

She had no power for five days, lost all of her food and found her lanai screen blown out with the outside ceiling fan dangling over destruction.

Lack, despite the scary events, thought she would be OK because she had insurance.

Her insurance company, though, denied her claim for roof repairs, despite never having put one in before, despite never missing a payment even when her premium was raised.

"After an adjuster came to inspect my home my insurance said that I did not need a new roof, that I just needed a couple of shingles replaced and that the deductible would be a wash. I knew I needed a new roof," Lack said.

In fact, when Lack got her blue roof installed from the Army Core of Engineers, they told her there was significant damage to her roof, that it was simply not a couple of shingles that needed replacement.

At one point, her insurance company deemed her case closed, but Lack would not take that for an answer and got her case moved within the company.

After running in circles between FEMA and her insurance company, Lack found herself hitting a brick wall; she was contemplating getting a second job to pay for a new roof.

FEMA told her because she had insurance, they couldn't help her.

"What makes one person more deserving than the other? I'm not quite sure," she said of FEMA grants, as some of her co-workers did receive money despite having insurance.

"I'm not sure how FEMA works. I know people with insurance that FEMA has helped, and people they haven't. Sure, they're helping some, but lots are falling through the cracks and we need to find out why."

Working in an emergency room, Lack could not evacuate during Irma and still went to work every day.

What she calls "divine intervention" happened one day on the job when a patient, Bob, and herself were discussing news about Irma on the television.

"He worked in the field and referred me to a roofer. I did not expect a call from him, but it came and it helped me more than words can describe," she said.

Lack was put in contact with David Crowther, president of CFS Roofing Services.

"Without Bob, I wouldn't have a roof," Lack said.

Crowther and his team helped with everything insurance-related, including photos, estimates, damages and helped her write her insurance company a letter, laying out all they found in damages and what needed to be replaced.

Lucky for Lack, she had taken pictures of the inside and outside of her house prior to Irma.

"The first time I met Dave, he gave me $250 to go buy food because it all went bad. I knew then I was in good hands," she said.

Despite their best efforts, Lack was once again denied by her insurance company.

Finally, after continuing to plug away, the insurance company caved and decided to pay for Lack's roof in late February.

"This process was unnecessarily difficult. If I did not happen to meet who I did, on the day that I did, who knows where I'd be now? Probably having to undertake the financial burden of roof replacement. I live with and take care of my son, who is a disabled veteran. I did not want to have mold grow and my house become unlivable. I couldn't find any other resources to help me," she added.

Florida residents should be aware of what coverage they have and what damages it covers as the upcoming hurricane season arrives, officials said.

 
 
 

 

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