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‘I still don’t sleep’: Islanders continue negotiating Fiona insurance claims, a year later

Eileen Walsh hasn’t been able to live in her own home for a year.

She and her son fled their North Wiltshire, P.E.I. bungalow in the early morning hours of Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. Post-tropical storm Fiona was hitting the Island.

“The water was coming out of the light sockets, the ceilings, my home surround system,” Walsh said. “You could see water forming between each piece of Gyprock in the whole house. It was pretty scary.”

At first, the mother and son were living in a hotel. In the 12 months since then, the family has bounced from one apartment to another.

I still don’t sleep over it. It’s very emotional, because I don’t know if I’ll ever get back into my home,” Walsh said.

A tarp on the floor of a home is covered in muddy water. It's surrounded by exposed wooden beams.
Walsh says there’s more damage to her home each time it rains, and now it must be completely rebuilt. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Last fall, Walsh got in touch with her insurance company to begin the process of having repairs approved. A restoration company put a tarp on the roof, and the flooded interior of the home was dried out and torn back to the studs. But since then, Walsh said it’s been radio silence from her insurer.

I never thought it would take this long at all.— Eileen Walsh

“It’s approved; why can’t it be built?” Walsh said. “When I found a contractor for November, I thought we’d be in our house by January. I never thought it would take this long at all.”

Due to the lack of communication from her insurance company, Walsh says she’s lost two contractors she’s lined up for repairs. And in the meantime, rain has caused even more damage to the structure that used to be her home.

“I’ve lost sleep thinking, ‘It’s going to rain tomorrow and there’ll be more damage,'” Walsh said.

The new normal?

The Insurance Bureau of Canada acknowledges there aren’t enough contractors or insurance adjusters to go around at times like this.

“It’s difficult to find roofers. It’s difficult to find drywallers and electricians,” said Gloria Haydock, manager of consumer and industry relations for the bureau in Atlantic Canada.

Between the fallout from Fiona and the ongoing storms, fires and floods across the country, contractors and insurance companies alike are overwhelmed.

“It is unusual. We typically don’t see it to the extent we are experiencing,” said Haydock. “However, what’s to say that won’t be the norm moving forward?” 

A woman wearing a black shirt and jeans stands in a building that has exposed wooden beams.
Eileen Walsh’s home has been stripped back to the studs by a restoration company, but the work stopped there because she hasn’t heard from her insurer. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

While insurers are working to recruit more adjusters, the industry is changing along with the climate. Haydock expects rates might go up because of the increased frequency of severe weather events like Fiona.

“With so many payouts — $800 million just in Fiona alone — that will more than likely result in some change to rates,” she said.

‘It just looked like a war zone’

As the anniversary of the storm arrives, Walsh isn’t the only one still waiting on repairs.

The basement of Lucie Lamoureux-Newson’s home in Wheatley River is still water-damaged from Fiona. It’s an event that she says traumatized her husband, who was home at the time. When she returned from a work trip, Lamoureux-Newson was shocked at the damage.

“I was absolutely flabbergasted by it. It just looked like a war zone. I’d never seen anything like it in my life,” she said.

A woman in a white shirt ad grey pants stands in front of a white house with a wooden fence around it.
Lucie Lamoureux-Newson has been able to move back into her home, but the water damage in her basement remains. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Since then, she’s had difficulty getting a claim approved through her insurance company, as well as a hard time finding contractors to do the repairs. Eventually, Lamoureux-Newson got a $7,000 cheque from her insurance company. But she says it’s nowhere near the amount it would take to do what needs to be done.

“It was an interruption in life, and it’s still interrupting us a year later,” she said.

On top of that, Lamoureux-Newson’s insurer has told her it won’t renew her insurance policy when it expires next month, because there’s too much risk.

“That’s why you have insurance, so you can make a claim, so you could get back to normality,” she said. “It’s a vicious cycle.”

The Insurance Bureau of Canada says in situations like Lamoureux-Newson’s, it’s best to shop around with different companies.

“What may be too much of a risk for one insurer is an acceptable risk to another,” says Haydock.

A woman pulls back a red cloth to reveal a window that's been boarded up, in a cement-walled basement.
Lucie Lamoureux-Newson pulls back a red cloth to reveal a window that’s been boarded up, some of the damage left in her basement by post-tropical storm Fiona. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

But so far, Lamoureux-Newson hasn’t found a company willing to take that risk on her home. The lack of hope is something she and Walsh have in common.

“We trusted our insurance provider to have our backs, and they don’t have our backs,” Lamoureux-Newson said.

At this point, appraisers have told Walsh her home will need a complete rebuild. But she doesn’t know when, or how, that will happen.

“I’ve had other contractors in, that say they can do it in three years,” she said. “I don’t want to wait that long. I want to be back in my home.”

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