Hurricane Ida insurance claim goes unpaid as homeowners argue with insurer over damages.

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Ten days after Hurricane Ida, Brooke Henderson found herself crying in her Chester County garden home, watching most of her first hemp crop go up in white smoke like a big bang.

Ida spilled seven inches of water over several hours on Sept. 1, 2021. But disaster for Brooke and Glen Henderson struck within the first 30 minutes when an overflowing septic tank spewed hundreds of gallons of sewage into the under the couple’s floor, contaminating 340 pounds of hemp drying in bins and personal effects, as well as bending the basement wall.

“I had just lost everything. I worked and cried for days,” Henderson said after watching his hemp crop go up in smoke on his four-acre property in Cochranville.

Ida may be a weather footnote from last summer for many. But for owners such as the Hendersons, the storm has only marked the start of a trench battle with the insurance industry which painfully persists – in the Hendersons’ situation, with the added heartache of seeing the waters waste destroying their first commercial crop.

There are no hard numbers on how many families and individuals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are still struggling with Ida claims and repairs. But eight months after the flood, disgruntled owners aren’t hard to find.

David Buono, deputy commissioner of the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance, met with about 50 local residents whose properties were damaged by Ida at a town hall meeting in Upper Dublin on May 5. Some of them also wept as they recounted difficult negotiations with insurers who failed to pay claims, or had dramatically reduced damage estimates.

Buono implored them to file a complaint with his state agency.

Families lost homes, roofs, antiques, rugs and heirlooms in a swathe of Ida devastation after the hurricane landed August 29 in Louisiana with 150 mph winds and set headed north, causing tornadoes. The storm caused $65 billion in damage, according to Christian Aid, a UK group that tracks damage caused by climate change.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, Ida destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and caused more than $100 million in damage to public infrastructure across the state, officials said a week after the storm. Stormwater covered Main Street in Manayunk and the Vine Street Freeway downtown. It flooded the lower level of the legendary Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford and destroyed the Pickering West Water Treatment Plant near Phoenixville, nearly causing a drinking water disaster in suburban Philly.

Brooke Henderson had harvested the hemp crop – which can be made into thousands of products including food, textiles, building materials, oils and the dietary supplement CBD – days before the storm. And he was drying in trash cans in their basement when Ida knocked.

The couple estimated their total damage to Ida at around $198,000, including the $80,000 in lost hemp. Donegal Mutual Insurance Group reduced the claim to $105,000, according to both parties in court documents. And so far, the company has only paid $25,600.

The insurance company said it only had to pay $10,000 of the crop that had just been harvested, based on the provisions of the business income policy. Considering the payout, the Hendersons consider their hemp loss to be at least $70,000.

Donegal also said a crack in the basement wall existed before Ida and was not covered. The Hendersons recently bought the house and had it inspected. An inspector for a mortgage on the home found no cracks, their lawyer said.

“Now I’m numb because it’s become such a contentious part of our lives,” Brooke said of the unsettled claims.

Brooke, 40, and Glen, 33, an auto body technician, sued Donegal in Chester County Common Pleas Court in January after repeated requests for information and inspections from the insurer. They are now refusing to allow Donegal to return home. “It’s become unbearable to work with Donegal,” said Brooke.

Attorneys for Donegal, based in Marietta, Pa., responded to the couple’s complaint with a court filing, but did not respond to an email or phone calls seeking comment.

Early in the claims process, Donegal requested a list of contaminated personal effects in the basement: guitars, drums and electronics from Glen’s band days, as well as vintage video games, a pottery and a wheel, furniture, carpets and a train. Position. The Hendersons estimated the loss at $36,000 for these items alone.

Donegal sent a rehabilitator to the Henderson house to see if some electronics could be repaired instead of replaced.

Donegal did not share the rehabber’s report and did not pay the claim for the basement property, the Hendersons said. Donegal said in court papers it was ‘still in dispute’ because the insurance company needed to carry out an additional inspection.

To repair the house’s structure and septic tank, the Hendersons estimated $8,500 for repairs to the septic tank, $10,800 for the interior basement wall and nearly $50,000 for damage to the wall. exterior of the house, as estimated by a contractor.

Shortly after Ida, Donegal hired a forensic engineer to assess the Hendersons’ cinder block basement wall which bowed under the pressure of the backed up septic tank. The forensic engineer didn’t do any tests. Based on observations, he concluded in a 76-page report with photos that “the presence of putty and cobwebs in the cracks [in the basement] is compatible with the wall that has already been cracked.

Donegal argued in court papers that because the crack apparently existed before Ida, related damage was not covered.

But the Hendersons had the 3,800-square-foot home inspected for a mortgage in 2019 when they bought it for $350,000, Glen said.

Matthew J. Bilker, the Hendersons’ attorney, said he reviewed the home inspector’s report for the mortgage and there was no mention of cracks. “A crack in the foundation would have been a red flag,” he said.

For the $25,600 Donegal paid for damages to Ida, the payments broke down as follows: $10,000 for lost hemp and $15,600 for property damage and repair of septic lines.

Bilker said nearly all of the $15,600 paid emergency contractors who pumped out the Hendersons’ septic tank and cleaned out the sewage-filled basement. The couple “have not been paid for the losses suffered”, he said.

The Hendersons said they needed the claim clarified. One side of the basement is temporarily braced with wooden supports that Glen has nailed together.

And it’s a new hemp season. The couple, who have three children, bought the home in what Brooke calls “God’s Country” in western Chester County because they wanted to farm the property.

Pennsylvania began regulating commercial hemp cultivation in 2018 after the federal government lifted a decades-long ban. Both hemp and marijuana are cannabis plants. But hemp contains 0.03% or less of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Today, there are approximately 85 licensed hemp growers and processors in the Philadelphia area, based on 2021 data, and 328 statewide.

In 2020, the Hendersons purchased a John Deere tractor and applied for a hemp license with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. The state issued the Hendersons a hemp license that May and Brooke and Glen viewed the 2020 season as a trial run.

Brooke, who grew up in Sussex County, Delaware, and attended Delaware Technical Community College in Dover for architectural engineering, designed kitchens and worked at Lowe’s and a granite countertop company. He was also prescribed medical marijuana for pain from a car accident, which led to the decision to grow hemp.

Brooke harvested parts of her second and third crops after Ida. She dried and processed the hemp in a temporary storage container. She has turned them into gummies, extracts, pet treats and topical CBG and CBD products which she sells through her website, www.naturalblhend.com – which claims to offer “organically grown hemp flowers from our farm at your doorstep!”

In 2021, she significantly expanded her harvest by planting 4,000 hemp plants on 2.2 acres. She harvested 1,300 plants in mid-August – just before the storm – and stored them in the basement. “We were looking to get to the end of the rainbow,” Brooke said.

Instead of a rainbow, Ida’s storm clouds appeared.

Brooke and Glen recently returned from the Pennsylvania Cannabis Festival in Kutztown. They spoke on the phone from a restaurant. Brooke said, “We’re entering a new growing season and we haven’t moved forward.”

Brooke said they will likely plant fewer seedlings this year and develop new arrangements for curing and curing hemp. They won’t use the basement.

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