For N.H. Agent, a Helpless Feeling Amid the Suffering and Loss

By | October 11, 2005

New Hampshire independent insurance agent Tom Minkler got his first call Sunday morning at 5 a.m. Since then, the phones haven’t stopped ringing. Minkler isn’t bothered by the calls. What bothers him is having to tell so many of his customers that they have no flood insurance.

“It’s very hard. We have an awful lot of customers who chose not to buy flood insurance and we feel so badly,” said Minkler, vice president of Clark-Mortenson Agency, which has one of its offices in flood-stricken Keene.

“It’s a helpless feeling,” he lamented when contacted by Insurance Journal.

Minkler, who has toured the devastated area, said most of the callers without flood coverage know they don’t have it because they remember the conversations they had with the agency when they declined to buy it. But they call anyway just to make sure, hoping their memory may be faulty or there may be a loophole. Minkler doesn’t blame them.

“It’s so tragic. In my 29 years in the industry I have never seen this type of destruction on such a broad scale,” he said. His own building escaped harm.

“This is when we in this business should shine and step in to help people,” he said, sadly noting there is little his agency staff can do for those who did not buy flood protection.

No exact numbers are available but Minkler thinks that only a small fraction of the area’s homes and businesses carried flood coverage.

For those with coverage, his agency is stepping in and, Minkler says, adjusters are responding very promptly.

For those many homeowners and business owners without coverage, his staff tries to provide a sympathetic shoulder, tips on restoring property and information on external resources.

But it has not been easy to see the hurt and not be in a position to help the way an agent would like to.

One customer came in with “just the clothes on his back,” his home, car and possessions having been washed away by the record high waters.

Another customer became extremely angry when reminded he had no insurance, but later embraced an agency employee to acknowledge in the midst of all his pain and loss that he should have listened to their advice and renewed his flood policy.

The homes of six of the agency’s own employees have been damaged. One employee returned from her daughter’s wedding Sunday night, transporting a backseat full of wedding gifts. Rather than lug them inside in the heavy rains, she decided to wait until the morning to bring them in. By morning, the car and the gifts were under water.

Officials have confirmed three deaths from the rains and a few people are still missing. Damage assessments have just begun.

Minkler, who sits on the national board of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers, can’t help but think of his agent friends in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida with whom he has communicated recently.

While the southwestern New Hampshire floods are much smaller in scale than what the southeastern states have witnessed, for Minkler they brought home the “power of water” and the tragedy of seeing people lose everything.

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