While winds ripped through the Inland Northwest last November, Alejandra and Doug Creel took shelter in their home.
The couple were sitting on their couch in their living room when, at about 4:30 p.m., Alejandra heard a strange noise.
“I look at my husband and say, ‘I’m really scared. “Would you hold my hand?’ ” she said.
She says her husband’s response likely saved her life.
“He said, ‘Yeah, OK, but meet me halfway,’ ” she said. “And he made me move.”
The sound she heard was the wind uplifting the roots of a massive, century-old ponderosa pine tree from their yard. It slammed through the roof of the 40-year-old home on South Perry Street, spilling drywall, wood and tree branches near where she’d been sitting.
“It was like a bomb exploded,” she said. She escaped with only a scratch on her hand.
The couple collected what they could – including their two dogs, Angie and Ashley – and vacated their property as wind continued to blast their home.
Nearly eight months later, the couple are still waiting for their insurance company to pay a contractor to come fix the massive hole.
“It continues to be a nightmare,” Alejandra said. “As it is right now, nothing is happening.”
The Creels, along with hundreds of other homeowners across the Inland Northwest, are facing the same dilemma. While roofing companies, general contractors and insurers work to get people’s homes back to pre-windstorm status, many homes have been in limbo because of insurance disputes or are on long waiting lists, and many owners are frustrated.
Jim Wavada and his wife had a tree fall on top of their home off Bernard Street on the South Hill. He said they had to make dozens of phone calls to insurance adjusters and contractors because the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. The retired Washington state Department of Ecology coordinator even went so far as to call the CEO of his insurance company to vent his frustration.
“I think a lot of people responded to the emergency,” Wavada said. “And some of them might have been stretched too thin.”
He said he understands that all sides are busy. But while the two sides are bickering over prices, he and his wife are stuck without a viable roof over their heads.
“Why isn’t anyone working on this?” Wavada said.
Pat Cummings owns a restoration company that specializes in cases like the Wavadas and Creels. He said that within a day of the windstorm, they had received around 400 calls.
Today, his company, Capstone Construction, manages a portfolio of 100 active customers dealing with windstorm damage, with about three or four times that number still waiting to be serviced.
“If I knew exactly how many people still need help out there, I’d sure sleep better at night,” he said.
Cummings said in some ways the storm happened at the right time, since construction season slows down in the winter and there were plenty of laborers looking for work. Still, he never expected this.
“We’re going to be doing these jobs right through until the end of winter,” he said. “Most of the restoration places just turned their phones off.”
Mike McVay co-owns McVay Brothers Siding & Windows, which employs about 75 people, 35 of whom are roofers. He said that as early as March, the company had scheduled roofing installations into September.
“I can’t think of anything like this,” he said. “There are a massive intake of roofs that need to be done and probably not enough skilled labor to get it done.”
Jimmy Stroh, owner of Jimmy’s Roofing, said he received thousands of phone calls within the first few weeks after the storm hit. They even had to hire a third-party company to keep up with all of the inquiries.
And like many other roofers in the area, Stroh shifted his business to focus only on repair and replacement work. For eight months, that’s all they’ve done.
But unlike some roofing and reconstruction companies that began mass hiring, Stroh elected to hire only workers he deemed qualified – something he and other roofing companies have received criticism for.
“We want to be honest with customers,” Stroh said. “And we didn’t want to have those bad reviews that ruin our reputation. We let people know what was realistic at the time.”
And like Cummings and McVay, Stroh is booking customers well into the beginning of next year.
But then there are families like the Creels, who aren’t able to schedule reconstruction until their insurance company, State Farm, approves a budget.
Alejandra Creel said she and her husband were told they’ll likely have to wait until next spring before any construction can begin. The most recent estimates they’ve received say it will cost over $400,000 to repair their home. They bought it in 2004 for $350,000.
In the meantime, they’ve been staying in a small, fully furnished one-bedroom apartment off U.S. Highway 195. It’s the size of their old kitchen and garage, Alejandra said.
All of their old furniture was destroyed and their drywall was gutted due to asbestos. And they can’t sell it and move on until it’s fixed.
“I’ve been crying for eight months,” she said. “We feel completely alone on this. It’s unbelievable.”
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