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‘One Down, How Many More To Go?’

September 6, 1992

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) _ Juan Guevara is cool on this day of high temperatures and torrid emotions.

People are clamoring for his attention, and for good reason. They are living in limbo in the garbage and stench of Hurricane Andrew.

Guevara, a 32-year-old construction engineer, is an adjuster for State Farm Insurance Companies, one of thousands of insurance adjusters here who have been thrown into a maelstrom after the storm.

Hurricane Andrew will introduce Guevara to another man who is also in big demand, Jim Summers Sr., a troubleshooter for Florida Power & Light Co., and a victim himself.

Their meeting is as cold as the day is hot.

Summers is tired. He has just finished another 12-hour shift in Florida Power’s race to restore electricity to the region. He tells Guevara he had a bad experience with a State Farm agent earlier.

And if that isn’t enough, his wife, he says, ″freaked out″ and went to stay with a daughter because of the loss of possessions she had treasured for 25 years.

Guevara follows his own advice: ″Just pace yourself. It could be stressful if you let it get to you.″

He is a fire claims superintendent in State Farm’s Oak Forest, Ill., office but volunteered to join an army of more than 1,000 State Farm adjusters working the hurricane.

The U.S. insurance industry estimates it will receive 700,000 home, business and auto damage claims totaling $7.3 billion in Florida. State Farm, the biggest insurer in Florida, estimates its claims will be much larger than the $470 million it paid out for Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

″I came to see the damage and help as much as possible,″ said Guevara. ″I want to be able to say I was involved in a catastrophe.″

Guevara will be here for six weeks and will miss the birthdays of his two sons, Nathan, who will be 1 on Sept. 17, and Anthony, who turns 4 on Oct. 8. His wife understands. She works for State Farm, too.

But for now, he is trying hard to turn around his bad start with Summers.

He is leading Summers around the house, letting the distraught owner tell his story. This is part of Guevara’s strategy: Listen. Don’t rush.

Summers is proud of his tile floor and he talks a lot about it. He and his son and daughter built the wood frame house eight years ago. It is imposing compared to other homes in the area, sitting on cedar poles, with a screened- in porch all the way around and cross-ventilation.

″I was in shock for a couple of days,″ Summers tells Guevara. ″I’m still in shock. It makes you sick, so many people hurting.″

″I want to go ahead and settle up with you,″ Guevara tells Summers. He climbs a ladder and inspects some twisted steel beams supporting the house. Other adjusters have been there before him. He is following up.

After he completes his inspection, there on the spot, he writes out a check for $116,000 and hands it to Summers. It is the maximum amount he can offer for the structure under the policy.

Summers already has received $7,000 in living expenses, which the insurance company will cover for up to a year. He is temporarily living in a trailer next to the house and plans to move his family into an apartment eventually. He will be paid later for the furniture and other possessions lost.

The two men shake hands. ″Thank you,″ says Summers, as he folds the check and holds it in his hand. ″You changed my opinion.″

″One down. How many more to go,″ Guevara says with relief as he leaves.

A few miles down Highway 1, Everett Parks is among the many more to go. It is nearly two weeks after the hurricane struck and he hasn’t seen an adjuster yet. ″What do they look like?″ he quips in his frustration.

His roof and windows are gone, the inside of his house is trashed and its walls are splattered with mud. His carpet and mattresses smell.

″They told me it would be possibly three weeks before they get to me. I’d like to be able to get hold of a contractor and start doing something.″

Rock Jenkins, a spokesman for State Farm, said the company ran a ″blitz″ of 600 adjusters through the region over the weekend.

″Getting that concentration into the that area that was hardest hit was the best thing to do,″ said Jenkins. ″It’s still going to be a while but we’re making every effort to get to our people as quickly as we can.″

He urged people to make temporary repairs for which the company would pay. He said State Farm has given victims between $100 million and $150 million in living expenses alone so far.

Summers says he will rebuild the house in good time. The house is considered a total loss constructually although it is still standing and can be repaired. ″We’re not quitters,″ he says.

As for Guevara, he is scheduled to return home Oct. 9. He’ll have a belated birthday party for those two sons and tell everyone, ″I was there.″

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