IOWA DERECHO 2020

Six months after derecho, many Iowans still waiting for repairs

Confusion over insurance, contractors creates 'headache' for customers

Carmen Baker stands by last Sunday to help pass tools and materials to her boyfriend, Bob Chittick, as he works on the c
Carmen Baker stands by last Sunday to help pass tools and materials to her boyfriend, Bob Chittick, as he works on the ceiling of her bathroom at Edgewood Forest Mobile Home Park in Cedar Rapids. Baker’s home was severely damaged in the Aug. 10 derecho. Unable to find reliable contractors, Chittick, who has a background in construction, has taken on the project himself and works on the trailer almost daily when he has time between his two jobs. The two have been buying materials as they’re able to slowly make progress on the project. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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With her hot water pipes frozen, a puddle staining her ceiling and water leaking onto her 16-month-old son’s toys, Laurie Vozenilek has been living in a six-month nightmare.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Vozenilek, who is 34 and lives in Cedar County’s Lowden with her boyfriend and children.

The thermostat in her home was set Monday to 76 degrees, but it was only 68 inside because of the hole in the roof.

She’s is hardly the only one still waiting for major repairs after the Aug. 10 derecho. Confusing insurance policies, the coronavirus and other factors have left many Iowans without answers six months after the storm leveled devastating damage across Eastern Iowa.

“You just don’t know what to do. Nobody has answers,” said Melanie Bramow, 47, of Marion. “Everywhere you go, you hit a brick wall and then after a while you think, ‘God, I’m getting a headache.’”

Bramow, who has a “big gaping hole” in her roof and a porch detached from the rest of the house, had “higher expectations” for support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. After not getting any help from FEMA, she’s been relying on insurance to cover losses.

That won’t cover everything, though. Bramow’s husband bought a truck days before the derecho destroyed it — and before it was on their auto insurance plan.

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Jeff McQuiston, a retired Cedar Rapids resident, had no issues finding a good contractor. But getting the insurance company to pay the contractor has been more difficult. He said it took his insurer 42 days to tell the contractor it’ll pay for the siding on all four sides of his home in southwest Cedar Rapids.

Snow and cold has gotten in the way of any improvements since then.

McQuiston, who is soon to be 65 and cares for his 95-year-old father, took on some repairs himself rather than wait.

“We had a tree come up and the root ball broke up concrete. I contracted that myself and got that done,” he said.

But the retired chef is no expert at replacing the siding on his house.

Living in a condo, 63-year-old Cedar Rapids resident Lori Reihle is waiting for her own insurance and the homeowners association’s insurance to determine which is responsible for her repairs.

The bylaws “are being interpreted differently by my personal homeowner’s insurance and the HOA’s insurance,” Reihle said. “That’s where the drag is. I don’t even know whose buttons to push anymore.”

Many people who received insurance payments for their repairs did not get as much money as expected.

Vozenilek’s insurer, American Mutual, gave her a $6,000 check for to replace the garage, roof and personal belongings. But one contractor priced a bid for just half the roof at $4,700.

The limited insurance payment has made finding a contractor to meet her in Lowden especially difficult. One day, she posted in a Facebook group seeking contractors. About 12 or 13 responded. She scheduled meetings with five. None of the five showed up.

“It’s pretty sad when my 17-year-old daughter looks at me, and she’s like, ‘What’s the point? Nobody is going to show up,’” Vozenilek said.

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When a contractor did appear, her daughter said, “We’re not going to hear from him again.”

Sonja Engel-Allbones of Cedar Rapids had about $30,000 in damage after the storm. More than two-thirds of that work is not done yet. She still hasn’t gotten bids for about half of it.

“We have submitted quotes to the insurance, which they did not like,” Engel-Allbones said. “They were too high, they were not written right, blah blah blah.”

The next time Engel-Allbones buys an insurance policy, she said, she’ll “read the fine print more thoroughly.”

Contractor’s perspective

Dave Olson, owner of Wisconsin-based Frontline Roofing and Exteriors, started on projects in Cedar Rapids quickly after the derecho. Payments from insurance companies, though, haven’t been as quick.

For example, Olson has received only $2,000 so far on a $25,000 project, he said.

“That’s putting me so far out of the pocket,” Olson said.

He also has taken “very tough” calls from people who paid contractors but have not gotten any help from them.

“If somebody goes in and takes $5,000 from a customer, I can’t eat that,” he said.

He recommended customers “do the research on the company itself” before working with a contractor.

Aid lacking for mobile home tenants

Bob Chittick, who lives in Edgewood Forest Mobile Home Park in Cedar Rapids, doesn’t have the luxury of contractors or insurance as he rebuilds. His home and the home of his girlfriend, Carmen Baker, which is next to his, are both too old to be insured, he said.

He called many contractors with little success. Some said “they don’t do mobile homes.” Others initially said they would stop by, but didn’t.

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“We got contractors that would say, ‘Yeah, we’ll come out and look at it, blah blah blah blah,’ and got ghosted by I don’t even know how many,” Chittick said,

By October, Chittick realized he couldn’t wait longer for a contractor.

He instead found he needed to make repairs himself on the two homes when he isn’t working as a cook at multiple restaurants. He has a folder bulging with invoices from Menards and an overflowing envelope of other receipts.

FEMA gave Chittick and Baker about $12,000 to repair the two trailers. It covers just a fraction of what’s necessary, but Chittick still is grateful.

“FEMA was very helpful,” Chittick said. “I’m not complaining about the amount of money they gave us because some help is better than no help.”

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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