July 03--BECKLEY -- Taped to the glass doors of many a convenience store the past weekend was this stock, hand-lettered message:
"Sorry, No Ice."
In normal circumstances, a run on ice this close to July 4 simply means coolers need to be filled up for backyard cookouts or outings on the lake.
What transpired last weekend was no picnic.
Ice was a premium item in Fayette and Raleigh counties, desperately sought by homeowners to preserve what food they could when the mother of all storms knocked out power to more than half a million people.
To borrow a phrase from a Capitol Hill controversy over gun-running in Mexico, it was fast and furious.
For many, with ice limited to two bags per customer, it came down to an old principle: Pick and choose which foods are worth saving, and hope the power lights up again before it melts.
And with most, this was a futile endeavor.
Plastic garbage bags were stuffed with spoiled meat and other staples. One woman standing in line at a Kroger Co. store was among those with a heavy setback, keenly aware the two small bags she could buy at $2.29 apiece would be insufficient to save her inventory.
"I just went to the grocery store on Wednesday and stocked up for the holiday," the Coal City woman lamented.
Now that heavy losses were sustained, Delegate Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, a claims investigator for Nationwide Insurance Co., was besieged Monday by multiple claims, and many of them entailed perishable food items.
"They're covered up to a limit," Hall said.
"Most homeowners' policies usually have a dollar limit associated with them. Most of the time, in situations like this, we take their word for it. You're not going to get into an argument with customers over $500 when you've got thousands and thousands of customers around with a similar problem. You just kind of give people the benefit of the doubt."
Obviously, no one is stockpiling bags of rotted meat and other foodstuffs to show a claims adjuster.
"We normally ask for something if they've got it," he said, adding this could be a recent store receipt.
There are some known to exploit a major storm that threw southern West Virginia into the dark.
"Sometimes we've had people who make claims for stuff in a freezer when they don't even have a freezer," Hall said.
"Most customers are honest. But you have occasionally, some who lie and stretch the truth a little bit."
Typically, most homeowner policies include a deductible of $500 or larger, depending on the amount a policyholder prefers, he noted.
While this ordinarily would mean one would need to lose a huge amount of food to get any type of reimbursement, Hall suggested this isn't the case, especially now.
"It doesn't take long to add up when you're talking about some frozen food, and pizzas, and steaks, to add up to a little bit of money," he said.
What's more, some likely laid in a larger than ordinary supply in advance of the July 4th holiday.
"There was a lot of that," he said.
"And a lot of hunters in this area had frozen deer meat and things like that."
With Internet dead at electricity-starved providers, Hall and others in the business community found the going tough Monday.
"I've been on the phone all day with our customers that reported claims so far just to get in touch with them, to see if there's anything I can do for them right away," he said.
Blown trees smashed into houses and utility buildings. In two instances, trampolines were ushered by strong wind gusts into vehicles in neighbors' yards. Shingles flew off many a roof.
"That kind of stuff is pretty common in a windstorm," Hall said.
Handling damage claims in a natural disaster is nothing new for Hall. When he worked for another insurance carrier in Florida and in the West, he often dealt with the aftermath of hurricanes and tornadoes.
This past weekend's mammoth storm and the resultant damage rank with them, he said.
"It's a big one," he said.
"I've seen a lot of tornadoes and hurricanes and stuff. This compares to that."
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