Calgary's hail storm victims still waiting on insurance companies, more than 50 days later
Some Calgarians appreciate the scale of the disaster, but question delayed response from insurers
On a sweltering afternoon in one of Calgary's far northeast communities pummelled by the June 13 hailstorm, the silence is shattered by the rapid fire, rat-a-tat-tat from a pneumatic nail gun.
Roofing crews have descended into the communities of Saddleridge, Taradale, Skyview and others to replace hundreds of roofs damaged in what's being called Canada's costliest hail storm.
The sound from the nail guns echoes through the area, signalling that work is underway for some homeowners trying to piece their properties back together after hail — some tennis ball sized — triggered 70,000 insurance claims and an estimated $1.2 billion in damages.
It's also resulted in disappointment, frustration and anxiety for homeowners who are still waiting to hear back from their insurance companies on a timeline for the work to get done.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada is asking for even more patience — saying it will take a full year to fix all of the damage. While there is hope for some homeowners, others describe feeling helpless trying to deal with insurers that they say have been too slow to respond to the disaster.
Driving through the hardest-hit areas, you can see piles of asphalt shingles that have been stacked on dozens of rooftops, revealing which houses are next in the queue for repairs.
But Jason Fischer is still waiting.
He has no idea when work will start on his two-storey home, which suffered extensive damage. The front windows were smashed and need replacing, vinyl siding was shredded and the roof will have to be re-shingled. His 12-year-old son's bedroom window was shattered and a laptop that was on his bed now resembles the surface of a golf ball.
When he spoke to CBC News, Fischer noted it had been 47 days since the storm and he still hadn't heard anything from his insurance company about the remediation plan for the home he shares with his wife and son.
It's now been 52 days.
"The No. 1 thing that they've been telling us is to keep patient and, you know, they'll progress as quickly as possible, but patience has its limits," he said.
A damage assessment has been completed, but it hasn't been approved. So, he's reluctant to hire a contractor for a job that he estimates will cost $35,000 to $40,000 for exterior and interior repairs.
Fischer says trying to get straight answers and timelines from the company has been an "impossible task."
"We've been loyal customers to our insurance company for over 20 years, as well, and that loyalty means nothing to them in regards to what's happening," he said.
He's not ready to name his insurance company, fearing that it could jeopardize his claim.
But Kelly MacAdam is.
'Extremely frustrating as a customer'
He's been with TD Insurance and wants to call out the company for the way he's been treated.
MacAdam says he called the company the day after the storm but it took him four days to get through to initiate his claim. He says it then took a month for an adjuster to arrive and come up with a $42,000 damage estimate for all of his property.
MacAdam, who also lives in Saddleridge, says his house, truck and travel trailer were all heavily damaged.
The vents and skylight on his trailer were destroyed and he was worried about further damage if it wasn't fixed. He said he couldn't wait any longer and took it in for repairs, which cost $1,600. Now, he's been told the trailer will be written off and he'll be given $7,000, far less than what he thinks it's worth. And he doubts he'll get reimbursed for the repair work.
"They're trying to write things off after they're being repaired, so you know, it's extremely frustrating as a customer."
Just like Fischer, he's reluctant to hire someone to repair his house until he has some certainty that the work will be covered. He worries the delay could cause further damage.
"The roof has been sitting for six weeks, open to the elements, so there's going to be roof rot and mould."
MacAdam, who was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, is trying to stay focused on his health and prepare for upcoming chemotherapy treatments in the fall.
"This is the last thing I need to be dealing with, you know, fighting with an insurance company when I just need to be focused on my health, right?"
No replies, no voicemail
Another TD Insurance customer is also speaking out.
Vania MacKinnon lives in Redstone on the city's northeastern outskirts. Her house and vehicles were also damaged in the storm and she, too, is waiting for her claims to be approved and settled.
An adjuster came out to the house in late June, she says, but an estimate hasn't been provided. The claim for one of the household vehicles has been settled, but she says they are still waiting to find out about their other car and their house, itself, which needs a new roof, some siding and two windows.
MacKinnon says it's been almost impossible trying to communicate with the company.
She says her adjuster's phone line doesn't accept voicemail and it can be days and even weeks before someone replies to their emails.
"We understand that they're busy, but even, like basic customer service, even if they acknowledged our email or contacted us to say, 'Hey listen, it's going be two to three months,' at least we would know what we're dealing with," she said.
"So just a lot of frustration. I think a lot of people in the community feel that way right now."
'Surge' in property damage claims
A spokesperson for TD Insurance says the company is doing what it can to deal with a "surge in property damage claims" from a "series of summer storms" that have hit the area.
"In times like these, and as we've done in the past, we have redeployed further resources from across our business to ensure we're here for Albertans when they need us most and help them recover as quickly as possible," Jillian Tanouye said in an emailed statement.
"We are working around the clock to make sure we respond in a timely manner to all claim inquiries."
The Insurance Bureau of Canada says the industry is taking extra steps to help respond to the disaster, including hiring more adjusters to assess the damage — some have even been brought in from the U.S.
"We do know that some companies are utilising their staff adjusters, independent adjusters and contractors to help proceed with their claims," said Rob de Pruis, a spokesperson for the industry group.
But those efforts appear to be falling short.
Fischer received an email from the bureau that stated there aren't enough adjusters or contractors available to immediately inspect and repair every home that was damaged. The email was sent nearly four weeks after the disaster.
"We would suggest that some homes will not be repaired until next summer, with badly damaged homes getting priority," read the email.
While homeowners may be eager to proceed with the repairs on their own, de Pruis advises against it until they have "proper authorization" from their insurance provider.
"Make sure that everyone is understanding and is agreeing on the approved costs for repairs," de Pruis said.
Contractors busy, looking to hire
Roofing and siding companies, meanwhile, are scrambling to keep up with the demand for work.
Jag Sidhu with Maple Leaf Stucco believes there is enough work to keep them going well into next year, if not longer. He says they're looking to hire more people.
"I can hire 20 people now," he said. "We have lots of work."
The city is cautioning people to make sure contractors are licensed and carry the necessary insurance coverage. Inspections carried out since work started in the affected areas has uncovered 57 licensed contractors and 49 unlicensed operators — 37 of them have been ordered to cease operations immediately.
Back in Saddleridge, Jason Fischer says he's been approached by a contractor he described as aggressive. He says he had to ask him to leave his property.
At some point, he'll be ready to hire a proper company to start the repairs on his house, but until then he continues to wait for the official sign-off from his insurance company.
"It's really worrisome to us, because every day is getting closer to fall, every day is getting closer to winter. And we cannot go into winter with our house being in this condition."
Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.