Updated: Monday, 27 Apr 2009, 10:35 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 27 Apr 2009, 4:24 PM EDT
SUFFOLK, Va. - It's been one year since since a tornado destroyed dozens of homes and businesses in Suffolk. Hundreds more buildings were damaged.
Now, the majority of families have returned home. Shops are once again open for business.
Though, some are still struggling to regain what they lost.
Craig Parker told WAVY.com, "I get discouraged, I get discouraged a whole lot."
Andriana Freeman said, "I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined it would have taken this long to get my house repaired."
It's been a long, difficult year.
Tim Davis with Suffolk's Community Development Division said, "After the tornado passed, It was over $23 Million in damage. This city had never seen anything close to that."
According to Davis, 50 buildings were destroyed. Another 100 had major damage. An additional 250 had minor damage.
Craig Parker's Driver Variety store was leveled a year ago.
He talked with WAVY.com from a chair in front of an empty space, once filled by his family's business since 1910.
"It's been part of you for a long time and all of a sudden you don't have it anymore. It hurts to look at it," Parker explained.
Parker said he expected to be back in business within a few months after the storm. In the beginning he said, things looked promising since his insurance company paid initial claims.
"They paid me on the lost and damaged items in the store, but I haven't got anything on the building," he said.
Parker has an attorney fighting to get the store rebuilt.
Homeowner, Andriana Freeman is also in a battle.
"It's just a nightmare. We've tried to settle, but each and every time the insurance company fights me things," she said.
At first glance, her home is beautiful. But she said there are still problems, a cracked window - stains from water leaking into the house. Her contractor stopped making repairs because of nonpayment. Freeman said the insurance company, Augusta Mutual of Staunton, Virginia, won't provide the amount of money she needs to restore her home. Freeman said she will not sign the agreement August Mutual offered because it is not enough.
"We're going to court. The insurance company has not paid the contractor, and the contractor wants to sue me," Freeman said.
Representatives from Augusta Mutual never answered WAVY.com's requests for information. However, the company filed a petition with Circuit Court in Suffolk. Augusta Mutual wants Freeman to accept an 81-thousand dollar settlement for damages. Her attorney, Jesse Johnson told WAVY.com he filed a counter claim, requesting more than $25,000 in additional payment.
A few homes in the city still look like they did on April 28, 2008.
"They're continuing to rent a year later. They have small children. It's certainly not easy for them," Attorney Steve Heretick said of the Chen family.
The homeowners allowed him to share their story with WAVY.com.
Heretick walked our crews around the Chen home and explained, "We have a building defect that falls on the homeowner, because the house has been built long enough that the builder is no longer responsible. ...There are certain limits to what insurance companies will cover."
Heretick said attorneys, engineers and insurance representatives are working on a solution.
Still, the delay led Suffolk inspectors to threaten demolition.
Tim Davis could not discuss specific properties, but he acknowledged for many owners, it's been a traumatic year.
He said, "tearing down someone's house is the last resort that we have. We give the homeowner every opportunity to repair, and sometimes they do."
Heretick is optimistic the Chens will be able to move back into their home.
"Keeping fingers crossed, we hope maybe in about 2 weeks, we can have documents signed, checks cut and we can have contractors back working on this," he said.
Andriana Freeman hopes a resolution is near. "This situation has truly been devastating on all of us. It has taken a toll on us financially, mentally and everything," she said.
Craig Parker said he's confident he will rebuild. He smiled and told stories of countless volunteers who came to help the people of Driver last year. Parker spoke of a Portsmouth pastor who took more than a dozen people to help clean the debris in yards and streets of Suffolk. He exhaled and said, "we had people from other parts of the state come out. They took trees and limbs and cleared them out... I kind of owe it to them to get back in business."
Dave Zobel represents the contractor for the Freeman home. Zobel was also part of the Virginia State Bars Emergency Legal Services Committee.
"Folks who had bad experiences either with their insurance companies or contractors, they would need lawyers to help them out so I volunteered to help them."
Zobel went through a trial with one homeowner. He offered advice for anyone faced with damages from natural disaster. First, ask your insurer questions.
"How are we going to do this repair, who is selecting the contractor. What's going to be paid? How is the insurance company going to issue the payment?" Zobel continued, "You have to get all of this upfront, and preferably, you'd like to see all of this in writing. Because if it's not in writing, there is no way to prove what somebody said to you out in the field."
Attorneys involved with post-disaster claims say the insurance process can be complex.
In addition to emergency legal services, both Virginia and North Carolina have state resources for residents.
The Virginia Bureau of Insurance and the North Carolina Department of Insurance can help consumers understand their policies. The state offices will not give legal advice to home- or business owners. However they are the regulating arms for insurance in their respective states. Consumers can file complaints or get suggestions for resolution.
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