'A full-time job': Tornado victims now facing long insurance process

One month after six tornadoes swept through the region, many homeowners are now coming face-to-face with the unwelcome reality of dealing with insurance claims.

Dealing with adjusters, contractors can seem 'unending'

Residents of Arlington Woods gather for a ceremony to mark the one-month anniversary of the storm. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

One month after six tornadoes swept through the region, many homeowners are now coming face-to-face with the unwelcome reality of dealing with insurance claims. 

"It's just unending," said Richard Henley, whose home was damaged in the Sept. 21 storm. 

"We're talking the fifth week now, and it's still going on — nonstop letters, emails, phone calls [to an insurance adjuster]."

An EF-2 tornado with wind speeds of up to 220 km/h touched down in Henley's neighbourhoood of Arlington Woods, knocking over hundreds of towering pine trees and causing massive damage. 

Most of the fallen trees have since been removed, but the work of putting roofs back on all the damaged houses remains. As winter approaches, tarps cover gaping holes — a stop-gap measure against the elements.  

Part of the issue may be the nature of insurance itself, said Pete Karageorgos, director of consumer and industry relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Filing insurance claims requires people to painstakingly chronicle every bit of damage, list every lost belonging and keep track of every expense. For many homeowners facing severe damage, it's a new, frustrating reality, Karageorgos said.

A car that was crushed by a falling tree while parked in a driveway during the tornado in Ottawa's Arlington Woods neighbourhood. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

"It can be a challenging process," he said. "[There's] sometimes a lack of awareness of how involved the process would be that can be frustrating for homeowners."

'A full-time job'

When the damage is severe — as is the case for many in Arlington Woods, Dunrobin, Craig Henry and Gatineau — it's possible that the normally-sluggish process can slow down even further, Karageorgos said.

"There could be delays because of the amount of claims. There could be delays because each of these properties has to be inspected. And there's building permits that have to be issued through the municipality," he said.

Sean Devine, president of the Trend Arlington Community Association, said he's also heard rumblings about delays.

"I keep on hearing from insurance companies that they're overwhelmed," he said. 

"I understand that, but at the same time, you're an insurance company. You need to have contingencies for this kind of thing."

The CBC's Adrian Harewood gets a tour of Ottawa's Arlington Woods neighbourhood from Sean Devine, president of the local community association, one month after the area was hit by a tornado. 0:59

CBC News reached out to several insurance companies for comment on any delays caused by the number of claims or the severity of the damage.  

RSA Insurance, TD Insurance and Belair Direct declined to comment on claim numbers, while a spokesperson for Travelers was not available. Aviva did not respond to the request. 

Arlington Woods resident Nick Noreau said his family is now back in their home, but their dealings with their insurance company are far from over. 

"It's almost like a full-time job, to be honest with you," he said. "If you don't detail all the things and look into things and research things, then unfortunately, you could be out of pocket."

Several homes were destroyed along Parkland Crescent and Riverbrook Road after a tornado swept through Ottawa-Gatineau area on Sept. 21, 2018. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

Andrew Brewin, whose home was also badly damaged, said the process has been slow — but not debilitating.

But he's not sure how many other people are keeping up.

"A lot of people are working days, and what are they going to do?" he said. "They have no time to manage all of this stuff."

'I was flabbergasted'

For others, the tornadoes served as a different kind of wake-up call, one that has the potential to pay off big in the future.

Kevin Johnstone lives in Stittsville, and though he wasn't hit by the tornadoes, he has friends who live in Arlington Woods.

Seeing and hearing about the destruction prompted Johnstone to check if his new home was insured for a similar storm.

It wasn't. 

Coverage for wind damage wasn't included in his policy. If a tree fell on his house during a storm, he said, that would be covered, but not damage from wind alone.

"I was flabbergasted," Johnstone said. "That seems like a very basic thing that you would want coverage for."

Asking questions about insurance policies is one of the most important things people should do, Karageorgos said, both before and after a disaster.

"Keeping the lines of communication open is the one key point that I would highlight for any homeowner going through that process," he said.