Picking up the pieces

NIGEL HEATH
Last updated 08:19 02/05/2013
Nigel Heath
SIMON BLOOMBERG/FAIRFAX NZ
HEARTACHE: AMI Richmond branch manager Nigel Heath and his staff have been busy following the flooding that devastated homes and businesses in the town.

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AMI Richmond manager Nigel Heath has been dealing with tragedy and loss since he joined the insurance business in 1987, but even he has been deeply affected by last week's floods which hit Richmond. These are Nigel's own words.

Dealing with the heartache and loss relating to major incidents such as floods is our job but being right in the middle of a flood and experiencing the destruction first hand was something entirely different.

I have been in Richmond since 1998 and the floods we experienced on Sunday, April 21 were the worst I have seen by a long stretch - far worse than the floods of December 2011.

Although the flooding was confined mainly to urban Stoke and Richmond, the damage was catastrophic and hit a number of areas and properties that had not previously been flooded.

Our AMI office on Queen St was closed all day on Monday, April 22 while we got the flood damaged carpets removed. Staff from Richmond were re-located to Motueka and Nelson branches to assist with processing our customers' calls.

A skeleton staff stayed on at Richmond on clean-up duties as it was recognised that the best way we could be of service to our Richmond customers would be by getting our doors opened as soon as possible. After a marathon effort the branch was open for business again from 9am on Tuesday.

Our busiest day was last Friday, when the full weight of customer inquiries was felt, involving claims already lodged, new claims, and business as usual activity. This combined to make it an absolute whirlwind of a day.

Since then, we have been receiving on average 300 to 450 calls a day relating to the floods, so it is still incredibly busy. We are dealing with a reasonable number of displaced customers, the exact number of whom I can't confirm due to many claims being handled off site - so far we have processed almost 500 claims.

Flood waters peaked in a number of houses to a depth of over a metre and many properties will be under repair for months, with full strip outs required. At least 20 vehicles in Richmond alone were written off as a result of flood waters.

The floods have been particularly upsetting for many of our elderly customers. I called out to one site with our loss adjusting staff where the occupants were mostly aged in their 80s.

Most had been evacuated in very distressing circumstances on the Sunday evening. The pain and anguish caused to these people and their families was apparent and their relocation while building repairs occur will not be an easy process for them.

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I was struck by the many reports of customers who went out in the storm to try and clear drains, house gutters, fences and any other barriers that were holding back flood waters. These actions often saved properties from flooding, or significantly limited the severity of the flooding that did occur.

The conditions were extremely dangerous; dark, with torrential rain falling and a huge and long-lasting electrical storm lighting up the sky up for miles. These customers were real heroes for taking affirmative action, not only to protect their own property, but often also that belonging to neighbours, friends and families.

The community spirit was strong and everywhere apparent. Almost immediately after the water receded, which happened quite suddenly on Sunday evening, many people immediately went to work to help relocate the displaced and clean silt and water out of houses.

A large number of customers were reluctant to even contact us as they recognised the branch would be very busy and they didn't want to put their own needs ahead of others. Very sobering stuff but we have welcomed any and all contact so that we can help as many people as possible.

Most of the branch claims to date involve carpeting, and damage to anything else that would normally be found at ground level such as appliances, books and boxes of clothing. It is still too early to fully quantify the cost of damage.

There is also recognition that financial help through insurance still can't replace some precious items. In that regard the consequences are likely to be felt for some time.

The lights of the Richmond branch are still burning late into the evening and starting very early in the morning as we work hard to get this disaster event managed and our customers' lives returned to normal.

It is our pleasure to assist those who are so supportive of our business and in many cases have been for all of their adult lives.

- Nelson

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